Shaky Science Behind Cat/Bird Study

Responding to the New York Times piece about bird predation by cats that I blogged about this morning, reader Chris Glazier writes:

The recent study on predation of catbirds is based on flawed science. Unfortunately, cats (usually feral cat colonies) take the blame for declining bird populations despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

The site Vox Felina dismantles this study’s conclusions, noting that in many cases bird deaths were attributed to cats not by hard evidence but by the mere assumption of guilt. You can’t call it science if you’re guessing. And this study is not alone. Pretty much every time I see feral cats mentioned in this context a little digging reveals oversimplification and bad science.

I get touchy about this subject because I work with feral cats (albeit in a mostly-urban setting). Of course, in an ideal world there would be no free-roaming cats, but when spurious studies like these circulate it makes our work more difficult. It’s studies like these that lead to legislation such as Utah’s bill that would allow hunters to shoot feral cats.

Such a ‘solution’ smacks of the facile answers people gravitate towards because it provides a simple villain (not to mention letting everybody else off the hook). From my perspective, education on spay/neuter and TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs are the only viable method of dealing with free-roaming cats. It is by no means a perfect solution, but it at least attempts to address the root cause of the problem. Nobody likes to hear about dead birds, but laying the blame with cats not only does the cats a disservice, but also the birds.


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