Feral cats and birds

To: David Rees <>, Bill Hall <>
Subject: Feral cats and birds
From: Kevin and Gwenyth Bray <>
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2017 06:41:07 +0000
I’m not sure how interested others may be, but I’m aware that the relevant WA State department responsible for environment and conservation and the like (it changes its name now and then!  At one stage it was CALM – Conservation and Land Management – but more recently (I think) Parks and Wildlife) has worked (sometimes with CSIRO) over quite a few years in arid and coastal areas of WA on the impact of (inter alia) feral cats on native animals – more so mammals and reptiles than birds, in places such as Shark Bay (“project Eden” on the Peron peninsular) and rural properties east of  Wiluna (the “Lorna Glen” former pastoral lease).
A major aim in this work has been to  eradicate (as far as possible) feral animals, including dogs, cats, goats, etc, so as to enable the reintroduction of some of the original native species.  I think the Peron peninsular work did include one bird species – the mallee fowl.
There will be web sites where this work is described.
My understanding is that of all the “target ferals”, cat populations are the hardest to reduce and are never completely eradicated, so the populations re-establish over time.
Kevin Bray
Sent: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 4:13 PM
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Feral cats and birds
Thanks for putting up the link
The take home form this is the apparent extent of cat predation is it is most serious in the remote interior (not withstanding small islands/seabird colonies).  Its free-living feral cats that are involved out there not domestic moggies.
That said I suspect 'greenwash' suburban domestic cat containment programs have little / no effect on a large or even on small scale on the incidence/ survival of bird populations.  I wait with interest for someone to initiate some science to see if such programs actually do any measurable good.  Up till now there seems to me to be some reluctance to do this work, I would like to be surprised over that.
Are these quoted numbers important - don't know, they might be.  I suspect, as stated, cats are most likely to be important when populations are laid low by a host of other bigger factors.  While fixing the cats may help, it does nothing about those bigger factors - land management, farming, climate change, disease  etc.etc. which are doing the structural damage.
I wonder about the extraction of bird predation from the other predation cats do - I suspect most feral cats in the arid zone eat small reptiles, large insects and mice as a matter of first choice, simply because they are usually easier to catch and eat and are more frequent in those environments than birds.  I doubt birds form a major food source for many cats in the arid zone relative to these other potential food items.
There appears to be no obvious evidence of a wave of extinction of birds from mainland Australia with the arrival of cats. Could it be that cats got here so early that scientists we not around to see it -maybe or maybe not.   Contrast that with the arrival of the Fox and its effect on Australian mammals (and some birds).  Also the NZ situation with the arrival of land mammals in general.  Australian birds clearly can live with mammalian predators, unlike say many native species in NZ which simply cannot.
Reduction of the impact of feral cats is a good idea, but is a very long-term process which will not be achieved with stop start funding and one off actions.  What is going on at Mulligans flat and similar places is good and should allow us to see if there is any benefit in extending this approach.  There are other approaches that may help broad-scale in areas 'beyond the wire'.  However when money is not plentiful is it better to spend most of it on dealing with 'first order' issues - like land use, climate change, new disease threats etc.?, Cats in my view are now a second order issue that has been here at least 200 years and probably longer.
Education of the public is important.  I have cats, they help my mental health and are valued company. I keep then in and in a run, mainly because I do not want them hit by cars or attacked by dogs/people and yes I don't want them eating my resident birds. Mind you,  the resident birds seem to be thriving in spite of other cats present.  What those birds needed first  was there to be suitable habitat to establish in our relatively new suburb, with that they were able to 'overcome' the presence of cats - there is a message in that.
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