Which type of feline is suspected of hunting and killing billions and billions of birds each year?

And the answer: domestic cats.

Photo credit: PBS

As it turns out, nature's perfect killing machines can be fierce predators and cuddly house pets at the same time. Small animals stand no chance to the might of feral and domestic cats: these felines kill more than three billion birds every year in North America alone. In fact, the effect is so substantial that songbird populations are actively declining across the country.

The cat vs. bird dilemma has gone so far as to spark somewhat of a national and at times global debate. Countries like New Zealand have since taken drastic measures to limit the presence of feral cats in wildlife, while others encourage a simple trap, neuter, release program. Since this 2013 study, two sides have emerged from the woodwork on whether or not letting pet cats roam free is contributing to the national songbird decline. One side argues that free-roaming house cats do more little more than control the rat population and encourages dealing with the feral cat problem before any other. This side tends to argue that cats need the great outdoors, that tapping into their intrinsic survival instincts is necessary for domestic cats to flourish.

Then, of course, there is the side of the reasonable scientist. This perspective draws from the data pointing to the songbird's decline before staring pointedly at the "harmless" suburban outdoor cat. It reasons that the population of birds isn't declining for just any reason, and that if songbirds are meant to survive and thrive then pet owners must get handle on the situation.

What do you think? Are domestic cats quite as lethal to songbirds as data suggests? Can we really hold them culpable? Check out this Smithsonian article for more info.

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