Monte Merrick, co-director and co-founder of Bird Ally X and director of the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, has two pet cats that he loves very much.
Even so, he is well aware of a problem with cats that affects billions of wildlife each year.
“According to a study by Smithsonian published a few years ago, domestic cats kill nearly 15 billion animals annually in the US. The majority of those killed are mammals, and most of them are native, like voles, shrews, chipmunks and so on, ”Merrick said.
“About 20% of the animals killed each year are songbirds, about 2.5 billion,” he said. “Right now songbird populations around the world, including here in the US, are declining sharply – nearly 30% in the last 50 years – so the pressures on their populations, from climate change to skyscrapers, from cars to cats, are clear is having a measurable impact on the general population.
“On a more intimate level,” he said, “there hasn’t been a bird that has been killed or injured by a domestic cat – not in the sense that we all have, death that is, and not in the same sense.” feel that predator-prey relationships develop over long periods of time: the wolf and the elk and the forest and the river dance in a just dance – not so the robin and the domestic cat. The robin and the sharp-skinned hawk, yes. A domestic cat is an introduced predator from a wild perspective that the native fauna has no defense against, and the domestic cats are also not subject to evolution given the benefits and some of the worst effects of civilization-fed food, medical care, safe places to keep theirs Raising babies, an industry dedicated to their proliferation, widespread abuse by people everywhere, abandonment.
“To be clear, cats are not the cause of the problem. This is a human swamp. And wild animals that are innocent are the victims. This is not nature, this is injustice, ”said Merrick, who has been a wildlife rehabilitation practitioner for over 20 years.
“We have this conversation almost every day with members of the public who bring us animals that have been caught by cats,” he said. “We have no choice but to keep trying to educate people about the dire costs of allowing cats to roam freely, but I don’t think much progress has been made.”
There are several options for cat owners that can give their pets access to nature while ensuring that bird populations are protected from attack.
“Leashes make a lot of people laugh, but cats raised with them adapt just as well as dogs,” Merrick said. “But the best you can do is keep house cats at bay. Monitoring time outdoors in a location where wildlife is not threatened is the only way to stop cats from killing native wildlife. Catios – Outdoor Screen Houses for Cats – are a fun way to allow cats to spend time in the sun and grass without exposing the backyard wildlife to the risk of being caught by your kitten. It should also be noted that Catios’ cats also protect them from the dangers of free roaming, such as: B. Diseases of other cats, such as feline leukemia, but especially from the notorious killer of cats, cars. If my cats came outside and I didn’t know where they are, I would be afraid of what could happen to them. Most people understand this very well about their dogs, although here in Humboldt we also see a lot of wild animals attacked by dogs, especially outside of the cities – birds, skunks, even fawns. “
To date, the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center has taken in 185 animal patients in 2021, 18 of which were caught by cats, he said.
Studies show that domestic cats kill more than 2 billion birds and billions more small mammals each year. This image is from photographer Jak Wonderly, who works at Wildcare, a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael. The birds and other animals pictured were brought to Wildcare within a year and all were injured and eventually killed by cats. (Jak Wonderly Photography / Courtesy of the Redwood Region Audubon Society)
“This is a pretty normal ratio,” said Merrick. “So far this year the most common species are bottom eater – robins and fox sparrows – as well as pine teats, which this year suffered a disorder in which starving birds were concentrated in birdhouses where the conditions for the spread of the bacterial infection salmonellosis were perfect . Sick pine teats were probably much easier targets than usual this year. “
The Humboldt Wildlife Care Center has existed since 1979. Before 2006, it was a network of volunteers who looked after animal patients in their homes and pooled resources to ensure the highest possible quality of care, said Merrick.
“Since 2006,” he said, “we’ve had a facility in Bayside that operates every day of the year.” The mission of the HWCC is to rescue the wild animals of our region in need, injured, orphaned or in conflict with humans, to rehabilitate them and to return to their wild freedom. “
Merrick added, “In 2011, Bird Ally X took full responsibility for the facility at the HWCC following a wildlife emergency that left dozens of brown pelicans injured by fish waste at public fishing spots on the north coast and boat ramps from Shelter Cove to Crescent City Year 2013. “
Bird Ally X, he said, was founded in 2009 by a collective of six wildlife keepers with extensive experience responding to wildlife emergencies.
“The six co-founders are currently actively involved. Two of us are in Morro Bay with Pacific Wildlife Care, two of us run the ‘Duck Hospital’ in the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge north of Weed. … The other two of us, me and my partner, are here in Humboldt, ”said Merrick.
Like Merrick and other animal lovers, rehabilitators, and educators, some members of the Audubon Society of the Redwood Region have cats. They too have real concerns about the problem of cats versus birds.
“I’m a total cat person too, as are some of the other RRAS members. I’ve owned cats all my adult life, ”said Jude Power, longtime member and past president of the Redwood Region Audubon Society. She is also a member of the RRAS Conservation Committee, where she works on a specific topic.
“I got involved when Peter Mara spoke at Godwit Days a few years ago,” said Power. “His talk motivated me to be part of the solution to the problem of free living cats. I am a bird watcher and therefore particularly sensitive to the plight of wild birds that live near human settlements. “
The Audubon Society of the Redwood Region is committed to protecting birds and wildlife by supporting local conservation efforts to protect wildlife and their habitat.
According to Power, there are several ways the local Audubon Society is currently addressing the cat / bird problem in Humboldt County.
“We are communicating with the cities of Arcata and Eureka about animal control regulations and enforcement of those regulations,” she said. “We are making the general community aware of the importance of keeping cats indoors, in a catio, or on a leash for the wildlife and welfare of their cats. To this end, we will organize a tour of existing katios as soon as public health guidelines allow. We are also developing a “Cats Indoors” page on the RRAS website. … A “virtual Catio tour” takes shape there. “
Power added, “We hope to develop monthly programs / speakers relevant to the issue of free roaming cats and the toll they take on birds and other wildlife. We (also) distribute American Bird Conservancy brochures to local open-air locations, pet stores, and other locations. “
For more information about the Redwood Region Audubon Society and their work in protecting birds from domestic cats, please visit http://www.rras.org/cats_indoors.aspx. Further information on Bird Ally X and the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center can be found at https://birdallyx.net/humboldt-wildlife-care-center-2. If you find an injured animal, call the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center at 707-822-8839.