Want to Prevent Algal Blooms? Toilet Train Birds

cormorants resting on a rock in a lake

While they may not be the sole cause, recent research shows that an increase in the population of cormorants on a lake in South Korea may have contributed to algal blooms.(Photo credit: EAGiven/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Algal blooms are a rapid increase in the population of algae in a body of water. They are characterized by their bright green color. While they can be an entirely natural phenomenon, algal blooms can be very harmful. They can deplete lakes of oxygen, produce toxins, and ultimately kill much of the aquatic life. [Read more…]

At Chernobyl, Birds Adapting to Radiation

abandoned building

The effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident on the region’s human population is well-documented. But what about the flora and fauna left behind? (Photo credit: Alex Skelly/Flickr/Getty Images)

April 26 marked the 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On this date, a sudden power surge during a reactor systems test at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine destroyed Unit 4. The accident and ensuing fire released huge amounts of radiation into the environment. [Read more…]

Songbird Survival in Winter

cardinal sitting on snow-covered tree branch

Songbirds use a number of techniques to survive during the winter. (Photo credit: Jaki Good Miller/Getty Images)

When it’s extremely cold outside, you might bundle up in multiple layers, put on gloves and a hat, and wrap a scarf around your neck. But what do songbirds do to survive cold winter temperatures?

[Read more…]

Outdoor Cats Significantly Impact Local Wildlife

The predator crouches in the grass, lying in wait. Tail gently swaying side to side, concentration remains on its prey, foraging unsuspectingly nearby. When the moment is right, the predator pounces and catches the prey by surprise, and with one lethal bite, struggle ceases.

Such a scene may evoke thoughts of the African savannah and its wildlife inhabitants. However, the animal depicted lives much closer to home and can be found in over 38 million American households. The animal in question is Felis domesticus or the domestic cat, and like its African relative, can have quite a significant effect on local wildlife populations when left to roam freely outside.

Pet cats that live outdoors can wreak havoc on native songbird populations. (Photo credit: Steve Vates/Alamy)

According to a study conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) in 2007, 34 percent of the United States population owns at least one cat. Cat ownership is highest in rural areas, where up to 60 percent of the population count cats among their household members. It is these rural populations of free-roaming cats that can have the most devastating impact on native wildlife species.

Cats, known to be skilled hunters, not only affect wildlife numbers directly by predation, but also indirectly by preying on the animals that serve as a food source for naturally occurring predators. In addition, cats can spread disease to other species. In a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases in 1993, cats were listed as culprits in the spread of feline distemper and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) to populations of the endangered Florida panther.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, outdoor cats can be implicated in the killings of hundreds of millions of birds and perhaps a billion small mammals each year. Rural cats have the most impact, as 90 percent of their diet is dependent on wildlife.

Predation by cats has led to the extinction of several bird species, and is particularly devastating to nesting shorebirds and island seabird populations. Introduced onto islands as both a way to combat rats (also human-introduced, albeit inadvertently) and as pets, cats took to hunting the native bird species, which were not adapted to such predators. On the islands of New Zealand alone, cats were responsible for the extinction of eight bird species. Within the U.S., bird species considered to be particularly susceptible to cats include ground-nesting shorebirds whose populations are already in decline, and the endangered California Quail, a species known to be targeted by cats as prey.

In response to these impacts, several conservation organizations have become involved in education programs to encourage cat owners to keep their pets indoors. One such program is Cats Indoors!, developed by the American Bird Conservancy and promoted by the Audubon Society. The campaign has been in place for twelve years, and its tenets have been adopted by the states of Florida, Hawaii and Minnesota, as well as the Department of Defense and Outer Banks National Seashore.

Keeping cats indoors helps to ensure good health and protects small bird species that live in your neighborhood. (Photo credit: Mark Scheuern/Alamy)

Our citizen education program has thousands of activists across the country who are conducting education campaigns, getting local ordinances passes, trapping stray and feral cats themselves, and fighting efforts to legalize trap/neuter/release efforts in their communities, Cats Indoors! campaign director Linda Winter said.

Rural housecats and feral cats pose an even greater problem to wildlife due to their sheer numbers and their often complete reliance on wildlife for their diet. According to Dr. Jo Liska, director of educational programs for the Bloomington (Indiana) Animal Shelter, these cats potentially pose a danger to themselves and others around them.

“There is a prevalent mentality, especially in rural areas, that cats should be free to roam, and one doesn’t really care if they are not seen for awhile,” Liska said. “Generally, those cats are also intact, not vaccinated, and not tested for FIV/FeLV [Feline Leukemia Virus]. This endangers all cats who spend any time outdoors and unsupervised.”

Among the guidelines suggested by the Bloomington Animal Shelter include keeping cats indoors, spaying or neutering, keeping vaccinations complete and up to date, and testing for FIV/FeLV. Aside from preventing potentially devastating impacts on wildlife species, keeping cats indoors is also in the pets best interest.

“Indoor cats live an average of 15 years, while outdoor cats live a mere three to five,” Dr. Liska said. “The latter are subject to acts of cruelty, to predation by coyotes, dogs, skunk, et cetera, to vehicles, to disease, to starvation, and to inadvertent poisoning.”

Providing outdoor cats with food does little to decrease their impact on native species in the wild because their hunting instinct is not driven solely by hunger. The most effective solution is to prevent them from having the opportunity to hunt outdoors.

Outdoor cats take their share of wildlife, especially birds, even if they are well-fed, she said. They are natural predators simply doing what is hard-wired behavior.

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