Pets on the Prowl

Missourians are blessed with an incredible assortment and abundance of wild creatures. We especially relish the fact that wildlife graces our urban and suburban areas, as well as our farms and fields. Many people put out birdseed and corn to attract birds and squirrels to their yards because they enjoy watching them. Ironically, they also put out the family cat and dog, both of which are the primary predators of urban and suburban wildlife.

Our pets provide comfort, companionship, and faithful service. We name them, and we pamper them to the point that they become part of the family. It's easy to forget that Tabby or Fido are instinctive hunters. A flutter of feathers or a twitch of a tail proves irresistible to them. Regardless of how tame they seem or how much food they eat at home, they will pursue prey.

My own aging 14-pound cat, Willy, is a good example. I usually keep him inside, but the other day he bolted through my legs when I opened the back door. He dove under the porch, and I couldn't lure him back inside.

A little over a half hour later, I spotted Willy with a dead titmouse clamped in his mouth. I was disappointed, but not surprised. In years past, all three of my cats have managed to catch voles, shrews, garter snakes, five-lined skinks, small birds, and even a few northern flickers during very limited outdoor excursions.

I try to keep my cats indoors, but more than half of the more than 60 million pet cats in America are allowed outdoors. Millions more "barn cats," unclaimed strays and feral cats never go indoors and primarily kill other animals for food. Some surveys have shown that the average outdoors cat will kill approximately 200 animals per year, and some of the best hunters might exceed 1,000 kills annually.

It doesn't require advanced mathematics to conclude that cats are killing millions upon millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the U.S. This huge harvest is threatening the existence of some species of birds, according to the American Ornithologist's Union, the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Cooper Ornithological Society. All have determined that cats have contributed to the decline of many bird species worldwide.

In Missouri, birds most likely to be consumed by cats include ground feeders and nesters such as