Cat

Above: A recent government study estimated that domestic cats kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals each year in the lower 48 states.

Eagle File Photo

My wife, Susan, has always been a cat lover; that’s not to say she hasn’t adapted quickly to each dog that has come to live with us, and soon accepted them as family members. Susan has long wanted to add a feline to our family; our assorted dogs would not have appreciated one in “their” dominion. And since our dog of 15 years passed away last month, even I have given thought to the feasible addition of a kitten in our home.

I do worry about having an outdoor cat, though.

The problem is that most cats, if permitted out of doors purposely or by accident, will kill birds, along with other forms of small wildlife, even if they do not bring them home.

Outdoor cats by the millions are run over by cars, mauled by canines and lost every year. By lost, I mean primarily taken by coyotes, bobcats and foxes. Outdoor cats are likely to contract parasites, ticks and mites. And thousands of missing house cats are killed each year by various poisons, but more importantly, antifreeze alone kills thousands of outdoor cats each year. It is safer to keep them inside.

FERAL, OUTDOOR CATS AND WILD BIRDS

A recent study by the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals each year in the lower 48 states.

The National Audubon Society has long supported a “Cats Indoors” campaign, urging pet owners to keep their cats indoors to protect their pets and birds. Audubon has guidelines on how to keep both birds and cats safe at www.audubon.org.

For the safety of both the pet and neighborhood birds, please keep them in the house. This is said mostly for newly acquired kittens, who have rarely seen the outdoors.

Some house cats, indeed, prefer small mammals to birds, as was the case of one cat we called Psycho Kitty, who kept the immediate neighborhood free of chipmunks, and a variety of mice species by dropping them off (dead, of course) on the rear steps when we lived in Dalton. This cat never brought us a bird, though.

The number of birds and mammals killed annually is significant, but the number of cats killed is also substantial: about 85 million owned and perhaps 55 million non-owned, or feral, cats.

There are many suggestions for keeping house cats from killing wildlife, but catching my eye is the BirdsBeSafe collar. For more information, go to: www.audubon.org/news/how-stop-cats-killing-birds and scroll down to “How to Stop Cats from Killing Birds | Audubon” with an orange cartoon cat.

Thom Smith: Harbingers of spring — including mud and potholes — are all around

READERS COMMENTS

There is a flock of at least 30 black vultures gathering in the large white pines at the bottom of Hollenbeck and Castle streets each evening in Great Barrington. They were here last year, as well. It is quite a sight to see them.

— Jack L., Great Barrington

For the past week or so, most of the birds we had at the feeders have left. This came as a surprise, but I understand that they have to go off to find a mate and go wherever they go during the summer. So, I will keep one feeder up, and the rest I will take down and clean them well, as you have said in the past. From what I learned from those feeder bird series you had, most prefer sunflower seed, which is the feeder I left out. Maybe you can write about where these winter birds go now that they have left?

— Sally G., Pittsfield

READER QUESTION

Q: We have six birdhouses in our yard and two of them are bluebird houses, which seem to have been used all winter by our bluebirds, so none of them have been cleaned out from last seasons’ nests. I would like to clean them out now, but am concerned that the bluebirds will leave and not use them this year if their nesting material is suddenly gone. What should I do?

— Barbara and Phil A.

A: Clean them out as soon as possible; bluebirds prefer clean boxes to nest in, and it lets them know that the nest box is not in use by another pair. And sometimes, if used several times, the contents may be high enough for a predator to reach in and remove eggs or hatchlings. Although bluebirds may use an old nest more than once, this can be harmful to the birds if parasites are present. The best action is to clean out the old nest after each use.