Pet owners can add another item to their house shopping checklist, should the U.S. decide to follow a British strategy to protect its wild bird population. I love birds, but I also love our cats and would be rather put out to discover that my housing development prohibited cats and dogs.
That's the predicament faced by buyers of homes in a new British 450-house development in Farnsborough, about a half-hour's drive southwest of London.
The development, according to Times Online, is near heathland populated by wild birds. The 32-square miles is protected by the European Union Birds Directive, which requires member countries to create protection zones, maintain and restore habitats, and create biotropes. A total of 181 endangered species were given special protection.
I spoke by phone with Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation for the Audubon Society, who confirmed that "cats and dogs can be a huge hazard to wildlife." However, he didn't feel this kind of ban was a reasonable way to deal with the problem, and wasn't aware of any such measures in the U.S.
"The typical approach here," he said, "is leash laws and strong enforcement of dog leash laws." He also told me that a better way to deal with cat predation is to keep them indoors, which is better for the cats too, as those allowed to roam are exposed to disease.
The danger to birds from cats is well documented. The San Diego Natural History Museum estimates that the average pet cat that is allowed to roam kills more than 100 small animals per year.
Add to the wandering house tabbies all of the feral cats in the urban wild, estimated in the tens of millions by the ASPCA, and it seems likely to me that they could seriously deplete the bird population. Think that there are too many birds for one species to wipe them out? Seen any passenger pigeons lately?
Perhaps the return of the coyote to the suburban landscape is a blessing to the bird population, albeit bad news for tabbies. A recent study in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that coyotes frequently prey on cats. Another study found that cats make up 13% of a coyote's meals.
In a perfect world, we would spay and neuter dogs and cats so that the population does not grow to present a problem to other species. In a real world, I suppose we should expect to see more coyotes taking care of the problem.
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