Throughout the United States, cats are quickly becoming the dominant predators in urban and suburban ecosystems. Cat predation is an increasingly persistent threat to the Bay Area’s wildlife, including several rare species. The San Francisco Bay Estuary, as the largest estuary on the West Coast, is immensely important to wildlife species, including hundreds of thousands of migrating birds every year. Yet despite the San Francisco Bay’s active habitat restoration movement, ecosystems continue to be at risk from many human actions, including irresponsible pet ownership. Bay Area wildlife species, already facing a multitude of threats, are often unable to cope with this additional predation.
The majority of the public is unaware of the danger free roaming cats pose to the natural world. However, this danger to wildlife is an addressable problem that can be immediately managed through community education. Golden Gate Audubon, in partnership with American Bird Conservancy, is committed to providing this public education on responsible cat ownership through our Cats Indoors! campaign. As cat predation continues to increase, this educational outreach has become a vital step for conserving birds.
As an important stop along the Pacific Flyway, San Francisco Bay is host to millions of shorebirds and waterfowl each year. With nearly all the Bay’s original marshes and shorelines altered, protecting what little remains is critical to the survival of many native species. Some of the most vulnerable species to this threat here in the Bay Area are ground-nesting birds such as the California Quail, Ridgway’s Rail, California Least Tern, and Western Snowy Plover. By providing cat predation education, Golden Gate Audubon is working to further protect these species and complement our existing conservation programs including our education and census work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline and our tern restoration work at the proposed Alameda National Wildlife Refuge.
However, prey species are not the only wildlife to be put in jeopardy. Native predators such as hawks and owls are at risk of being out-competed for food as cats prey upon the small mammals and birds that constitute their food source. When increased predation or competition is combined with invasive species, human disturbance, habitat alteration and fragmentation, native species can be further pushed to the brink of extinction.
Cats continue to be popular pets, with Americans now owning 90 million cats, an increase of 13 million from 2003. In the counties of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa alone there is a minimum estimate of 790,000 pet cats. As cat ownership rises, Golden Gate Audubon’s Cats Indoors! campaign seeks to educate the public about how their decisions to be responsible cat owners can extend the life of both their pet and the natural world. By following the straightforward steps outlined below, the public can work to protect wildlife and their pets, as well as reduce the estimated 60-100 million stray cats in the United States.
As wildlife sanctuaries within urban areas, local nature areas face distinctive human-induced threats, including cat predation. Cat predation is caused by pet owners who do not spay or neuter their cats, allow them to roam free and who abandon their cats when they are no longer wanted. Cats prey upon many federally-listed threatened and endangered species in the Bay Area including:
- Western Snowy Plover
- California Least Tern
- Ridgway’s Rail
- Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse
- Reduce the predation of wildlife by feral and domestic outdoor cats.
- Involve and educate local communities about responsible cat ownership, and the effects of cat abandonment on wildlife.
What You Can Do
- Keep your cat indoors and encourage others to do the same. Cats can get used to an indoor lifestyle. Cats that are allowed to roam outdoors can encounter feral cats and are more likely to catch a disease.
- Identify your cat. Use a collar and tag or microchip your cat incase it gets lost.
- Don’t feed unknown cats without making a commitment to finding them a permanent home. Feeding stray cats will only establish their presence and lead to rapid growth in their numbers. Instead take them to a local animal shelter where they have the chance to be adopted.
- Spay or neuter your cat as early as eight weeks of age.
- Never abandon cats. This is illegal and cruel behavior. Instead take the cat to an animal shelter where it has a chance of being adopted.
- Support laws that prevent cats from roaming.
- If you are unwilling to keep your cat indoors, do not attract birds to your yard by putting out bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths.
Other Helpful Information
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has published a new report, Impacts of Feral and Free-ranging Cats on Bird Species of Conservation Concern: A Five-State Review of New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, and Hawaii, which, for the first time, analyzes the effects that cats are having on some of America’s most at-risk bird species at cat predation hotspots. The five-state review illuminates troubling threats to endangered species such as the Florida Scrub-Jay, Piping Plover, and Hawaiian Petrel, and other key birds such as the Painted Bunting, Least Tern, and Black Rail. It was was made possible through a generous grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The American Bird Conservancy
report can be dowloaded here.
Resources provided courtesy of the American Bird Conservancy: http://www.abcbirds.org.