Cats, both wild and tame, kill over one million birds in Australia daily, a new study showed. This mass slaughter is behind the rapidly declining population of many bird species.
Researchers estimate that wild cats kill 316 million birds annually, while domestic cats kill 61 million, Phys.org reports. John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University, lead author on the study, says,
Everyone knows that cats kill birds, but this study shows that, at a national level, the amount of predation is staggering. It is likely to be driving the ongoing decline of many species.
The study examined the results of close to 100 researches across Australia, conducted by environmental scientists that sampled cat population density. Another hundred studies were on feline diet.
Woinarski observed that while other studies had taken a look at the impact cats had on the country’s mammals, this is the first nationwide assessment focusing on birds. Results showed that feral cats, which number in the millions, are also deemed the primary culprit causing mammal extinction in Australia.
Since cats were introduced to the continent by European migrants two hundred years ago, cats have wiped out entire populations. Attempts to cull them have failed to slow their fast-paced breeding.
The researchers found that cats killed 338 bird types, which is almost half of Australia’s native species, including 71 threatened species like the squatter pigeon, spotted quail thrush and night parrot.
Woinarski said, “We 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 occur on islands or in woodlands, grasslands and shrublands.” He added, “For Australian birds, cats are a long-standing, broad-scale and deeply entrenched problem that needs to be tackled more effectively.”
Sebastian Lang, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, called the study “extremely important and of great concern.” He said, “Our knowledge of the impacts of cats on threatened mammals was a major stimulus for our first-ever national Threatened Species Strategy, which prioritised actions to control feral cats. This new research emphasises the need to continue working to reduce the impact of cats on our native biodiversity.”
The government’s Threatened Species Strategy has allotted over AUD30 million to fund efforts to reduce the impact of feral cats on wildlife.
The study was published in Biological Conservation.