Researchers found that both pet and feral cats are killing more than a million birds every single day in Australia, and is becoming a serious problem for wildlife there. This adds up to the usual problem of humans illegally killing animals in the country’s reserves — including birds.

According to the new study, published Tuesday in the journal Biological Conversation, cats that live in open nature kill 316 million birds a year, while cats that live under a home’s roof kill 61 million birds annually. That means, 377 million birds are killed annually just by cats in Australia, posing a huge threat to various species in the country. Of the killed birds, more than 99% are native.

Australian cats killing birds, Australian birds to go extinct
Feral cat eating a rabbit. Image credit: Wikimedia

The study was conducted by researchers from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program after looking at evidence from more than 200 different studies.

Australia is a country known for having one of the most varied wildlife in all the world. There and nowhere else, people can find amazing and lovable animals like the koala, the kangaroo, or the wombat. However, there are also other incredible and dangerous animals that have killed not only their equals but also humans, such as white sharks, crocodiles, and the Komodo dragon.

What people never imagined, is that cats were another group of animals that kill frequently. In fact, Australians who own cats are used to seeing their pets bringing and leaving dead birds on their yards. But they never knew that the problem was so worrisome and common.

This is the first study that seeks to determine if cats are becoming a problem for Australia’s birds and to assess the impact they’re causing to the nationwide wildlife.

Four percent of bird population dies annually

To reach these conclusions, Associate Professor Sarah Legge of the Australian National University said the team of scientists used data from previous studies.

“We also looked at the traits that were more likely to make a bird susceptible to cats,” she said.

The researchers estimated an impressive amount of birds killed by cats every day. According to them, there is a total of 11 billion native birds living across the country. This means that, considering the immense number of birds that cats kill each day, about a 4 percent of their population dies annually.

Not all the regions experience the same bird loss. Cats kill more birds in the most remote zones of Australia, where there are more species than in the populated regions. In fact, in all the nation’s islands, cats are killing more than 338 different bird species, and 71 of them are already threatened species. That’s about 60% of the threatened species in Australia, Legge said.

Unfortunately, there is not much to do to face this problem. The reasons are very obvious because cats don’t really know what they are doing. They just follow their instincts without considering if another species is in danger of extinction. If cats want to kill and they are not owned by people aware of this problematic, they’re just going to do so. And every cat-owner knows their pet is still going to probably leave dead prey where the cat lives.

“Responsible pet owners can help reduce the impact of domestic cats by desexing them and keeping them indoors or in a cat run,” Acting Commissioner Sebastian Lang said, according to The Guardian. “These are great ways to protect our wildlife that can also improve the well-being of domestic cats.”

Australians officials try to protect the species lives

Australia’s government already has control programs for wild cats. But after this study, it seems as if authorities will have to double their efforts if they want to solve the problem. The acting threatened species commissioner, Sebastian Lang, said the government has already invested more than $30m in projects to reduce the feral threat.

“Our knowledge of the impacts of cats on threatened mammals was a major stimulus for our first-ever national Threatened Species Strategy, which prioritized actions to control feral cats,” said Acting Commissioner Sebastian Lang. “This new research emphasizes the need to continue working to reduce the impact of cats on our native biodiversity.”

Australian cats killing birds, Australian birds to go extinct
Feral cats in Australia. Image credit: Reuters

In fact, Australian officials already started constructing an immense 170,000-acre cat-free zone in the country’s dessert, in order to help the re-population of the many species that are not only threatened by humans but are now being eaten by felines.

However, birds of every color and every size continue dying every second. Today, there will be another million of dead birds, affecting progressively the rest of the wildlife.

“Everyone knows that cats kill birds, but this study shows that, at a national level, the amount of predation is staggering, and is likely to be driving the ongoing decline of many species,” lead researcher Prof John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University told The Guardian.

Woinarski added they found that the birds most likely to be killed by cats are medium-sized birds, birds that nest and feed on the ground, and birds that live on islands or in woodlands, grasslands, and shrublands.

Source: Biological Conversation