Help Curb Killer Cats

Aug 12, 2015 / Student Blogs

[baby dove recovering in Wildlife Medical Clinic]

The Wildlife Medical Clinic is currently caring for several animals that have been attacked by cats, including a baby mourning dove and a juvenile song sparrow. The dove is recovering from wounds over his wings and a large laceration over his crop (an outpouching of the esophagus of some birds, used to store food), and the sparrow was brought in after someone found him on the ground, lethargic and weak with wounds on his legs. Both birds have had their wounds managed and are receiving antibiotics for their infections.

[recovering song sparrow]

This young song sparrow is recovering from wounds and an infection caused by a cat attack. Above: Some baby birds, including pigeons and doves, feed on a secretion from the crop of their parents by sticking their heads inside the parent’s mouth. At the Wildlife Medical Clinic, we use a “false crop” made of a syringe case and vet wrap and filled with seeds to mimic the adult bird’s crop. Above, the nestling mourning dove in our care has learned to feed himself with this nifty device.

These patients have been lucky so far, but most animals are not so fortunate.

The National Audubon Society estimates that outdoor cats kill birds at the rate of 1 billion to 4 billion (that’s a 4 followed by 9 zeros—BILLION) birds each year, and according to the American Bird Conservancy, cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds worldwide. You can read about the “KittyCams” that support these claims here. It’s pretty alarming.

Cats can be wonderful companions but they wreak havoc on wildlife when they are allowed to roam outdoors alone. And contrary to popular belief, cats do not hunt just for food. Well-fed “house” cats are just as likely to take down a defenseless bird learning to fly as a hungry stray. Cats are predators, and they are hard-wired to be stealthy, fierce, successful killers.

What You Can Do

If you have an outdoor cat and you care about wildlife, there are some things you can do to help keep wild animals safe. Obviously, the best option is to keep cats indoors or in an enclosed outdoor area. (I’ve seen these firsthand, and cats love them.) In addition to protecting wildlife, you’ll be keeping your kitties safe from cars, wild predators like coyotes, and some very scary illnesses that free-roaming animals can carry (a few that can even be passed to you and your family!).

If you can’t or don’t want to keep your cat indoors, there are a number of gadgets that you can use to at least minimize your cat’s hunting. There are fancy collars and bells (though the efficacy of bells is questionable at best), even something as simple as a brightly colored scrunchy around the cat’s neck can allow the would-be victim to sight the cat sooner and give it time to escape (for anyone who missed the fad, this is a scrunchy).

Finally, if you have an outdoor cat, avoid feeding wildlife. Bird feeders and baths are great ways to see wild birds up close, but if you have an outdoor cat, you are essentially baiting these animals—especially if there are bushes, trees, or other hiding places nearby.

On a positive note, our little patients look like they’re going to get another shot at life. They are eating and growing and should be back in the wild before the summer ends, hopefully this time a bit more wary of Fluffy.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear! Follow me on Twitter @NickiRosenhagen or post to the Wildlife Medical Clinic account on Facebook or @WildlifeatIL.

Nicki Rosenhagen, DVM