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Cat & Great Tit

Songbird predation by free-roaming domestic and feral cats

Key points
Domestic and feral cats - the biggest killers of songbirds in the UK? Cat With Bird
  • Free-roaming domestic and feral cats are the biggest killers of songbirds in the UK – estimates range from 55 - 100 million+ killed per year
  • The domestic cat population has more than doubled since 1975 – from 4.5 to over 10 million nowadays
  • Free-roaming domestic and feral cats are non-native animals, and are estimated to kill around 30% of the annual productivity of our songbirds
  • Cats are only one of 29 predators of songbirds but as domestic pets, they should be the easiest to control
  • One in four households owns at least one cat – cat predation is a national problem
  • There are 6 times as many cats than the number of all foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, polecats and sparrowhawks put together
  • Cats are also estimated to kill 220 million small mammals, reptiles and amphibians per year
  • Free-roaming domestic and feral cats are driving the native, endangered, wildcat towards potential extinction through hybridisation
What does science show? Cat With Bird 2

  • No study has ever examined the impact of cats on songbirds at the population level
  • Evidence shows that the recovering sparrowhawk population in the 1970-80s resulted in the decline of some songbird populations
  • Cats kill around 3 times as many songbirds as sparrowhawks
  • The mere presence of cats near birds’ nests was found to decrease provision of food by a third while the resultant mobbing clamour from parent birds led in turn to increased nest predation by crows and magpies
  • It is therefore far more likely that cats have an even greater impact on songbird populations than sparrowhawks
  • The prevailing line that “there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats is having any impact on bird populations in UK” is simply no longer tenable.
What others do and say Cats with bird 3
  • Cat 'curfews' and ‘Trap-Neuter-Return’ regimes are operated/proposed in New Zealand, Australia (close to some nature reserves) and in some states in the US. There has been a recent call for cat controls in Ireland, Germany and a contested Trap-Neuter-Return programme for feral cats in Israel.
  • Feral cats were eradicated successfully on Ascension Island in order to protect nesting seabirds and trapped on St Helena to protect threatened waders
  • UK cats kill songbirds at between 4 - 12 times the rate that illegal hunters in the Mediterranean kill migratory songbirds.

  • Bullet PointsThe CE of Birdlife International described the levels of songbird killing in the Med (20 million per annum) as both ‘extraordinary and unsustainable’.
    Bullet Points
    How would she describe the 55 million songbird deaths caused by cats, annually, in the UK?

  • Researchers at the Universities of Reading and Exeter reported widespread ignorance of the issue and described a state of denial by many UK cat owners
  • Some conservation organisations are conflicted on the issue of cat predation – many members and donors are cat owners
  • The issue is currently a political ‘no-go’ area due to widespread cat ownership and the political clout of cat protection bodies
  • Sir David Attenborough has stated that “Cats kill an extraordinarily high number of birds in British gardens” and that their owners should "buy bell collars for their pets to help stop the deaths"
  • Chris Packham has also stated that cats are exacting “….a demanding pressure on Britain’s wildlife…." and that they should be kept in at night and given cat collars
  • Pets such as cats do provide therapeutic benefits and companionship. Need this be at such a huge cost to our biodiversity when there are simple steps that cat owners could take to avert this?
Action required Cat with bird 4
  • The unsustainable level of songbird deaths exacerbated by free-roaming domestic and feral cat predation must be drawn to the attention of decision makers, opinion formers and the public now
  • We must increase public awareness that more research is needed
  • Research must quantify the impact of cats at the population level
  • Research is needed on how best to lessen the impact of cats on songbirds
  • Domestic cats should be given the same legal status as dogs and not treated as wild animals as this would promote more responsible ownership

To view Cat Research studies please click here
SBS RECOMMENDED CAT OWNERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT
  • Micro-chip & neuter your cat
  • Fit snap-release collar with bells / sonic warning device – alerts prey and minimises chances of cat becoming snagged / strangled To see example click here or here or here
  • Keep in overnight – especially from Apr to Jul when many naïve young birds are around and roosting in garden hedges etc
  • Train your cat to use a cat litter – minimises mess on other peoples’ property and children’s sandpits, and the chances of toxoplasmosis transmission
  • Consider keeping a ‘house’ cat
  • Consider building a cat run in your garden Click here to view
  • Consider not replacing your cat when it dies
Not a single creature needs to be harmed, but millions of birds could be saved


SongBird Survival is a charity commissioning research into the decline of Britain’s songbirds. With your support and membership we hope to reverse their decline. 
Click here to find out more……
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