Tag: cats and birds

Study: There Are 5 Types Of Cat Owners

When it comes to attitudes about hunting and impact on local wildlife, there are five broad categories of cat owners, a new study says.

Four out of the five aren’t particularly worried about their cats killing birds and small mammals, the University of Exeter researchers wrote in the study, which was published in Frontiers In Ecology and the Environment, a research journal.

  1. Concerned Protector. These are people who keep their cats indoors to keep them safe from the world. Their main worries are cats being stolen, lost or killed. They don’t have strong feelings about hunting behaviour and wouldn’t keep their cats indoors solely to stop them hunting.
  2. Freedom Defenders believe cats should be able to roam where they please, like wild animals. Cats hunting is a good sign of normal behaviour and helps control the rodent population. They oppose any restrictions of cat access to the outdoors.
  3. Tolerant Guardians believe that the benefits of roaming outweigh the risks of the cat being injured or lost. They love wildlife and cat hunting is the least attractive part of cat ownership, but it is just what cats do. They’re not sure how cat owners can effectively reduce hunting behaviour.
  4. Conscientious Caretakers believe cats should have access to the outdoors but they don’t oppose some containment. Hunting by cats really bothers them, and they particularly worry about birds. They believe owners should have have some responsibility managing their cat’s hunting behaviour.
  5. Lasseiz-faire landlords believes it’s natural for cats to want to go out into the natural world and if they fall foul of it (dogs, bigger cats, SUVs) that’s natural too. They’ve never seriously thought about the effects of cats on wildlife populations. They’d be more likely to manage their cat’s hunting behaviours if it was killing things all the time.

You can take a short quiz (16 multiple choice questions) to find out what kind of cat caretaker you are. For what it’s worth, the quiz says I’m a “conscientious protector,” which sounds about right.

cat-predation

In his mind, of course, Buddy is a fierce, powerful feline and a mighty hunter. In reality he’s hilariously inept at the hunting games we play, and no matter how many times I’ve brought him outside on his harness, he goes into sensory overload every time, spending the first 20 minutes nervously huddled before he relaxes, his tail shoots up and he starts to enjoy the new sights and smells.

Fortunately I don’t have to deal with a cat who pines for the outdoors. Bud has no desire to go out there on his own, and he won’t even step onto the balcony if it’s too hot, too cold, raining, snowing or especially windy.

Most of all it’s too dangerous out there between traffic, potential predators like coyotes, train tracks, other cats and people who will abuse or kill cats just because they can. I don’t want to lose my little Bud.

Dear readers, if you take the test, please let us know which category it placed you in.

NYT Columnist: ‘If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat’

What would you do if you encountered a hungry, injured feral cat hiding under a car near your home?

If your first thought is to help the poor little one, enlist the aid of a local rescue and get the cat some much-needed veterinary attention and food in its belly, congratulations: You’re a human being with a conscience.

One New York Times columnist, however, thinks the solution is to indulge in a fantasy about murdering the innocent animal, of using a weapon she doesn’t own and soundly disapproves of to wipe it from existence.

When Margaret Renkl saw the “ragged, battle-scarred tom, thin but not emaciated, with one eye that didn’t open all the way,” her first thought was to kill it, not help it.

“If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat,” Renkl wrote in her Aug. 3 column, titled “Death of a Cat. “I would have chased that hissing cat out from under the car without a thought and shot it as it fled.”

Imagine: An effete, 60-something, morally self-satisfied woman playing Charles Bronson, standing over the corpse of a cat and slipping a still-smoking pistol into its holster before heading back inside to tweet-lecture the unwashed masses on civil rights, COVID etiquette and respect for wildlife.

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A feral cat. (Credit)

The staff of the New York Times really seems to be working overtime to prove it’s tone-deaf and hypocritical: It wasn’t so long ago that a Times columnist tut-tutted those who disapprove of breeding and selling $20,000 designer cats while millions of homeless animals are euthanized annually.

Times columnist Alexandra Marvar even went so far as to praise people who use their wealth and connections to flout laws against poaching illegal wildlife, reminiscing about the days when “wild cat companions were were associated glamour, class and creativity.”

“Salvador Dalí brought his ocelot to the St. Regis. Tippi Hedren lounged with her lions in her Los Angeles living room. Josephine Baker’s cheetah, collared in diamonds, strolled the Champs-Élysées. In their time, these wild creatures made chic pets,” Marvar wrote.

While Marvar romanticizes wild animal “ownership,” the reality is sadly less glamorous: Instead of Josephine Bakers leading “chic” diamond-collared cheetahs on idyllic walks through Paris, it’s Texans prodding confused and depressed tigers into tiny backyard enclosures at taser-point, insisting that “muh freedoms” guarantee them the right to treat the world’s iconic megafauna like toys.

So why does Renkl hate cats? Because she’s read bunk scientific research that claims cats kill billions of birds and small animals every year:

I was thinking of the first nest the bluebirds built this spring, the one in which not a single baby survived. I was thinking of the gravid broadhead skink who would lie on our stoop every afternoon, warming her egg-swollen body in the sun. She disappeared one day to lay her eggs and guard her nest, I assumed, but now I wasn’t sure. I was thinking of the chipmunk who lives in a tunnel under our stoop and of the little screech owl, its feet holding down some small prey, its eyes glowing in the infrared light of our trail camera.

The more I thought about those vulnerable creatures, already crowded out by construction and starved out by insecticides, the angrier I got at the feral tom. In truth, I would never kill a cat, but I can surely hate one with a murderous rage. A person who has spent a quarter-century trying to create an oasis for wildlife can go a little mad when a cat shows up in the photos on her trail camera.

Note that Renkl didn’t actually see the starving cat kill those birds or squirrels. She simply assumes that a bird who doesn’t return to her glorious backyard oasis has been gobbled up by evil felines. Her rage is prompted by emotion and assumption, not fact.

She doesn’t have a negative word to say about the construction and pesticide industries either, reserving her “murderous rage” for a raggedy cat just trying to survive because she read studies claiming cats are furry little Adolf Hitlers, exterminating birds one bloody feather at a time.

We’ve talked about those cat-blaming studies here on Pain In The Bud: They’re sloppy meta-analyses of earlier studies using plugged-in, arbitrary data and dubious numbers from questionnaires to arrive at the conclusion that cats kill as many as 20 billion small animals in the US alone.

It’s cherry-picking at its worst, beginning with a pretedermined conclusion and inventing, massaging and selecting “data” to support that conclusion rather than doing the hard work of collecting authentic data and honestly interpreting the results.

The researchers who published those studies should be mortified to have their names attached to them. They’re engaging in activism, not science.

We’re not the only ones who have a problem with the aforementioned studies. A team of scientists and ethicists examined the claims and “found them wanting,” blaming the sloppy science of those studies for the claim that “cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity” and the subsequent war on cats in countries like Australia, where some states offer $10 a scalp for people who kill adult cats and $5 a scalp for kittens.

What kind of twisted logic compels people to kill kittens in the name of protecting animals?

Screenshot_2020-08-04 Your Cat Is a Killer And This Study Shows Why You Really Need to Keep It Inside
Bunk research claims are repeated as fact by media outlets. (Source)

The primary and most-cited studies claiming cats kill billions of animals “take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large,” the critics wrote. The studies ignore “ecological context,” bury contrary evidence and ignore mitigating factors, like the fact that cats often prey on other animals that kill birds.

In other words, they start with a pre-determined conclusion and shape the dubious data to fit, as I wrote above.

And so the claim that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals is repeated as fact by an unskeptical press, and ostensibly serious people, like the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Pete Marra, advocate a “nationwide effort to rid the landscape of cats.” That’s a nice way of saying he wants to kill hundreds of millions of innocent domestic cats because he doesn’t want to see the glaring flaws in studies about the species’ ecological impact. (Marra also compares feral cat advocates to tobacco companies and climate-change deniers, which is an astounding claim from a man whose name is synonymous with manipulating research data to support his views.)

This is absurd stuff, akin to the extermination of cats in the Dark Ages prompted by stories alleging cats were the agents of Satan, witches and heretics, and central figures in devil-worshiping ceremonies. The only difference is the people of the Dark Ages, who didn’t know better, were driven by religious belief. Their modern day counterparts are driven by religion masquerading as science.

catsdarkages
An illuminated text on cats from the Dark Ages, when felines were considered agents of the devil. (Source)

This is what sloppy research has wrought: An army of self-professed animal lovers stalking the dusty plains of Australia and the backyards of the United States, shooting domestic cats with pistols, bows, air rifles and pellet guns.

These people don’t seem keen on thinking about how they justify the callous culling of hundreds of millions of domestic cats — intelligent, sentient animals who have feelings — in an unproven effort to protect birds and rodents.

Renkl ends her column by telling us she got her wish, in a way. A few days later, a neighbor’s kid came to her for help after some wildlife-loving do-gooder poisoned the poor animal. As she watched the tomcat convulse and twitch in an agonizing death, Renkl stopped to take pity…on herself.

“For weeks I have been trying to understand my own tears in the presence of a dying cat I did not love,” she wrote.

To her credit, by the end of the column Renkl does acknowledge her rage is misplaced, generously allowing that a cat trying to survive isn’t evil. But that concession comes after several hundred words painting cats as the driving force behind the destruction of wildlife and presenting flawed studies as credible science.

The damage has already been done.

 

Featured image courtesy of PETA.

No, A Study Did Not Conclude Cats Kill 20 Billion Birds And Small Animals Yearly

Talk to birders, casual conservationists or anyone who says they’re worried about the ecological impact of cats on native bird and mammal populations, and without fail they’ll bring up The Study.

Yeah, that one: A 2013 study, published in Nature Communications, that claimed cats kill “billions” of prey animals each year in the U.S. alone — including 3.7 billion birds and up to 20 billion small mammals in the contiguous states.

What activists won’t acknowledge is the fact that there are fatal flaws in the research, flaws that have been repeated in a new study claiming cats kill 10 times as many small animals as wild predators.

Let’s break it down:

The researchers don’t actually know how many animals cats are responsible for killing. Both the 2013 Nature Communications study and the 2020 Animal Conservation study rely on owner questionnaires to estimate the number of animals pet cats kill outdoors and to assign numerical scores to their cats’ “hunting skills.” In other words, the study authors are relying on people who have no idea what their cats are doing outside to give them supposedly accurate figures on how many birds, rabbits and reptiles little Fluffy and Socks kill every year. As for people evaluating the hunting skills of their cats, how exactly do they do that? Do they consult nonexistent scoreboards? Do they find a dead mouse or two and conclude that Socks is the GOAT hunter?

The people who took the surveys were self-selected. These aren’t random samples. The questionnaires were given to people who actively volunteered to participate in the studies.

catbird4
Friend or snack?

 

 

  • In both cases, researchers supplemented their questionnaire data with estimates of “additional” animals killed by cats. Or to put it bluntly, the research teams invented numbers and plugged them in. They’ll claim they arrived at those numbers via analysis, but again, these are studies that rely on owner questionnaires for the bulk of the predation data. Any conclusions drawn from that data are automatically suspect.
  • The 2013 study was centered around a meta-analysis of earlier studies, not fresh data. For the numbers they didn’t have, researchers derived figures from older published studies. For example, they added billions of “kills” to the tally and attributed those phantom kills to “unowned cats.” The problem? No one knows exactly how many stray and feral cats roam America’s streets and countrysides, a fact the research team admitted in the 2013 study: “no empirically driven estimate of un-owned cat abundance exists for the contiguous U.S.,” they wrote.
  • The best estimates claim between 20 million and 120 million feral and stray cats live in the contiguous U.S. That’s a spread of 100 million! How can a research team estimate how many prey animals are killed by cats when they can’t even get a fix on the cat population? The numbers matter: If there are only 20 million ferals and strays, each of them would have to kill more than 1,000 animals a year to account for the study estimates.
  • Headlines trumpeting the 2020 study say it’s based on GPS data, but that’s only partially true. Yes, the team used GPS data from a small number of cats belonging to self-selected study participants, but that data tells them nothing about how many animals those cats are killing. The GPS data only indicates where cats go when they wander, not what they do. In this study, as in the last, researchers relied on questionnaires, which in turn assumes cat owners have exceptional memories and can account for everything their furry friends do outdoors when no one’s watching them.

The stakes are high, as NPR noted in a story about the 2013 study: The resulting headlines are repeated as gospel in newspapers across the country and on countless news sites, which in turn influences how people feel about cats. They influence politicians and proposed laws as well, with several countries looking to ban outdoor cats.

Buddy's claws
One cat who has zero kills: “I am NOT an inept hunter! You don’t want to tangle with these talons, bro.”

Nuance, such as the 2013 study’s admission that an unknowable number of animals are killed by “collisions with man-made structures, vehicles [and] poisoning,” is usually left out of those stories.

After all, no one’s seriously proposing an end to the automobile industry despite studies claiming untold billions of animals die as roadkill annually.

A quick Google search turns up hundreds of articles with breathless headlines like To Save Birds, Should We Kill Off Cats?, The Moral Cost of Cats, and Cat Owners Turn Blind Eye To Pets’ Violence.  There are alarmist books, too, like the hysterically-named Cat Wars: The Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.

In some Australian territories, authorities have open bounties offering $10 for the scalps of adult cats and $5 for the scalps of kittens. Is this what we’ve come to? Killing baby animals based on hysteria over bunk science?

“It’s virtually impossible to determine how many cats live outside, or how many spend some portion of the day outside,” Wayne Pacelle, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, told NPR at the time. The scientists “have thrown out a provocative number for cat predation totals, and their piece has been published in a highly credible publication, but they admit the study has many deficiencies. We don’t quarrel with the conclusion that the impact is big, but the numbers are informed guesswork.”

And that’s the important thing here: Instead of calling for a mass culling of cats based on wild estimates of their environmental impact, we should be working cooperatively on solutions to curb their opportunities to hunt, starting with simple measures like keeping cats indoors.

We don’t need another study with wild estimates of feline impact on small wildlife. What we need are smart plans and the will to implement them as a society.

(First image credit Earth.com. Second image credit CatsAndBirds.ca. Third photo is Buddy, the Inept Hunter.)

 

Cat Food Is Loaded With Mystery Ingredients, Study Says

We’ve all heard the oft-quoted factoid claiming domestic cats kill billions of birds and small animals every year, and unsurprisingly that number is contested and controversial.

One reason skeptics doubt those numbers is because researchers didn’t observe cat behavior and extrapolate the ecological impact — they handed out questionnaires to owners and asked them how often their cats brought dead animals home. To get accurate results, researchers have to be confident people are answering honestly and have reliable memories. It’s really not the best way to do a study.

So a team at North Carolina State University came up with a better way to measure cat predation on wildlife: They’d take hair samples from more than 400 cats, which would reveal how much of their diets consist of cat food versus prey.

Hair analysis can reveal different isotopes, so the team would be able to directly note each cat’s diet by distinguishing between pet food isotopes and those from prey animals. As the team explained:

A common way to understand the composition of animal diets is to collect samples of fur, nails, or blood from an animal and analyze its carbon and nitrogen isotopes. All organic materials contain isotopes of elements that get locked into body tissues, following the basic principle that you are what you eat. For example, the ratios of nitrogen isotopes present in carnivores are dependably distinct from those of plant eaters. Similarly, researchers can distinguish the types of plants that an animal eats by measuring the ratio of carbon isotopes.

It was a good idea, but the study was derailed by an unexpected discovery: No one knows what the heck is in pet food.

Cat food manufacturers fill their products with mystery ingredients, the team found, which means one bag of kibble or one can of wet food doesn’t have the same ingredients as the next, even if they’re the same flavor from the same company.

Cat Eating
Although they can meow in protest, our cats can’t tell us their food tastes different. (Source)

Additionally, pet food manufacturers can — and do — change what they put in their products without notifying customers or acknowledging the changes on the packaging.

As a result, the research team couldn’t identify which isotopes were from cat food and which ones were from hunted meals.

“We really thought this was going to be an ideal application of the isotope methodology,” said scientist Roland Kays, a co-author of the study. “Usually these studies are complicated by the variety of food a wild animal eats, but here we had the exact pet food people were giving their cats.”

That discovery essentially rendered the study useless for its original purpose, but like all good scientists, the North Carolina State team realized that failure reveals just as much as success, even if it’s not necessarily what you’re looking for.

They published their results in the journal PeerJ, explaining what they’d learned.

“This isn’t what we aimed to study, but it is important in as much as there are hundreds of millions of cats (perhaps more) on Earth,” said Rob Dunn, a professor in NC State’s Department of Applied Ecology and co-author of the study. “The diets of cats, dogs and domestic animals have enormous consequences for global sustainability, cat health and much else. But they are very non-transparent. In short, at the end of this study we are still ignorant about why some cats kill more wildlife than others, and we have also found we are ignorant about something else, the shifting dynamics of ‘Big Pet Food.'”

kitteneating
A happy kitten. (Source: ICanHazCheezburger)

As veterinarian Shawn Messonnier put it in an editorial for Pet Age, “the pet food industry remains shrouded in mystery about what’s really inside the pet food bag and how it’s created.”

Calling for more transparency in the manufacture and packaging of pet food, Messonnier pointed out ingredients can have a drastic effect on the health of our furry friends.

“For pet parents, a big leap of faith is required of them because unlike fresh human food, you can’t visually verify the ingredients used, their sources, freshness or the safeness of their handling,” he wrote. “Label language can be difficult to discern, too, so people rely mostly on the observations and opinions of friends and family they trust. Inevitably, people hope what goes in the bowl will translate into well-being and happiness for their dog or cat.”

Cat TV Is Legit

This is not music for cats.

I tried that a few years ago after reading a story about composer David Teie, who’d designed tracks especially for felines, incorporating tones and rhythms that supposedly have a calming influence on cats.

Here I was thinking it would be something nice for my cat, so I queued up one of the tracks — and Buddy lost his shit!

Bud’s reaction didn’t leave any room for ambiguity: Ears flattened to his head, whiskers pulled back, crouched in a defensive position and hissing at the TV. It was a full-fledged freak-out.

As anyone who’s read this blog knows, Buddy’s a weirdo even among cats, so I don’t doubt Mr. Teie’s music does calm some kitties. Just not this one.

After that experience you can understand how I was hesitant to give “cat TV” a go. Turns out I was worried over nothing.

Buddy usually ignores the TV, but when the video started and the first bird flittered on screen, pecking at some seeds scattered on a tree stump, little man got really interested.

After a few seconds he settled in like a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons, mesmerized as he stared up at the screen.

There were a few times when he looked back at me over his shoulder, seeking a bit of social reassurance as if to say “Can I watch the birdies, Big Bud?” Then he started chirping!

Cat TV isn’t all about the visuals. Sound plays a key element and Paul Dinning, the Youtuber who produces the videos, captures an omnidirectional array of flutters, birdsong and the background hum of nature.

Buddy bounced on the balls of his feet once or twice as if he was ready to pounce on the screen, but he never did. He didn’t look for birds behind the TV either, which is apparently a common reaction. Maybe he understands what he’s seeing isn’t real, but he’s entertained nonetheless.

So it’s with Buddy’s ringing endorsement I can report cat TV is legitimate kitty entertainment. If you ever need to buy yourself an hour or two to get something done without a furry personal assistant getting in the way, cat TV can provide a nice distraction.