Bruce Barcott has written an excellent article in this week’s NYT Magazine about the threat that feral cats pose to endangered birds. I will have to write an update about whats happened to my foot in the past week tomorrow: today I want to put out some of my favorite quotes from the article. This is what happens when I spend an entire morning reading about birds, bears, and cats…
This interesting section covers what happened on Cat Island… “Several years ago, Fern Duvall, a wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, compared two Hawaiian islands: one with a high feral-cat population, the other without any cats at all. He looked at fledging rates of seabirds, which measures the percentage of chicks that successfully leave the nest. On the cat island, only 13 percent of the chicks made it out alive. On the cat-free island, 83 percent survived.
Cats aren’t the only bird killers in Hawaii. Mongooses prey on birds, too. The difference, Duvall says, is that mongooses tend to take one or two birds and be satisfied. Cats can go postal. “We’ve had as many as 123 wedgetail shearwaters in one colony killed by a single cat,” he said. “Adult shearwaters are clumsy on the ground, and cats will come in at night and rip the skulls off the shearwater chicks. When you come upon the aftermath in the morning, it’s pretty horrendous.””
Cat hunter Jim Stevenson talking about drops in the number of local birds… “We’ve lost 40 percent of our migrant songbirds in the last 25 years — a lot of this is why,” he said, peering out at dozens of new vacation condominiums going up along the shore. “We’ve taken away their food source and their habitat. Double whammy. Then they get here, and those migrants, man, they’re beat. For the cats, it’s easy pickings. They’re popping birds like they were M & M’s.”
Karen Munday, an urban wildlife specialist, details the deadliness of cat bites… “This one’s got a wing abrasion and puncture wounds,” she said. That’s likely a fatal diagnosis. A cat’s teeth and gums contain enough bacteria to overwhelm a bird’s immune system. “What usually kills the bird isn’t the puncture; it’s the infection,” Munday explained. “A bird is more likely to survive a gunshot than a cat bite.”
My personal favorite, Jim Stevenson’s reasoning behind his decision to shoot feral cats with a shotgun…“The cat was chasing an endangered species,” he told me. “I’d tried for years to get people to do something about those cats. So I decided that I needed to take that cat out.”
The best paragraph of the article, hands down: “Up on the bridge, a tollbooth attendant named John Newland heard the shot. Newland, a quiet man in his 60s, often fed the cats under the bridge. He called them his babies. Newland bolted out of his tollbooth and saw Stevenson’s van. “I got you!” Newland screamed. “You quit shooting my cats!””