Domestic cats both owned and unowned are one of the biggest causes of death for not just birds but all urban wildlife. A 2013 study estimated 200 million birds per year are killed by cats in Canada alone.
Outdoor cats are subject to their own set of dangers including predation, being hit by cars and poisoning.
The reasons for allowing cats to be outdoors varies but luckily there are solutions available to keep both cats and birds safe.
The City of Calgary is one of the only municipalities in Canada to have bylaws related to roaming cats. The Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw states that all cats are to be licensed and that the owner of an animal must not allow that animal to be at large. This implies that cats must be contained on the owner's property and are subject to fines if they roam. Unfortunately not all owners follow the bylaw and owned cats at large continues to be a concern.
Due to Calgary's responsible pet ownership bylaw, there is incentive for owner's to keep their cats indoors. There are not however, any bylaws to say that a cat must be spayed or neutered and thus unowned stray cats continue to survive on the streets of Calgary. Luckily there are organizations working to reduce the number of unowned cats. The MEOW foundation runs a trap neuter release program focused on supporting colonies of cats that are supported to caregivers in the community. This program helps reduce the growth of feral cat populations while ensuring cats who are not able to be in a home continue to receive care. These colonies are located throughout the city but none are adjacent to a natural area.
The City of Calgary Animal Services also takes in stray cats secured by members of the public. With support from local non-profit organizations, unclaimed cats are put up for adoption.
How big is the issue in Calgary?
Unfortunately it is difficult to know the actual numbers of birds caught by domestic cats in Calgary for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the birds need to be found and reported somewhere which is not the case. Unless a bird is found alive and taken to a rehab, it is unlikely to be documented anywhere. Secondly, a cat who occasionally brings home a bird is likely to be responsible for more catches than those they bring home. Birds they have caught elsewhere may be consumed on the spot leaving very little evidence to be found or they may be hidden elsewhere nearby where owners are unlikely to look. Deceased birds found by members of the public are generally disposed of without reporting to the City of other organizations as well. We do however have a source for injured birds.
Calgary Wildlife, a local wildlife rehabilitation organization takes in thousands of birds each year. Where cause was injury is known, 1139 were reported to be due to cat attacks between 2017 and September 2022. That is an average of 227 birds each year. Again, these are only those animals for which cause of injury was known and those who lived long enough to make it to this rehabilitation facility. The actual number is certainly much higher.
Dangers to roaming cats
While cats pose a huge threat to the survival of birds and other wildlife, cats themselves are victims in the urban environment. Causes of death or injury can come from a variety of dangers including urban predators (coyotes, bobcats, raptors, domestic dogs), cars, poisoning (directly through substances such as antifreeze or indirectly through bioaccumulation from eating poisoned rodents), fights with other cats and weather related injuries. Many cats that go missing or are found by citizens are reported to YYC Pet Recovery. With their support we sought to figure out how many cats are being reported as deceased through the site. To learn more see here
Again, it is difficult to understand how many cats are injured or killed in Calgary each year due to a variety of factors but we can see the dangers around us. With support from Nature Canada, Bird Friendly Calgary purchased GPS collars to be used by citizen volunteers willing to have their cats activities mapped. See the results of 3 collared cats here