The Threat of Cats is Overstated

The Baltimore Sun recently published a comment by Ron Lambert which disputes the rash of headlines about the killer nature of cats.  While it is not my practice to copy the work of other writers,  I have inserted the entire comment below and fully attribute it to Ron Lambert.

My own background in the philosophy of science and the methodology of science tells me that this author, Ron Lambert, is absolutely correct in his assessment of the work that was done to establish the ‘fact’ of killer cats.  The work, as Lambert points out below, was limited and flawed.

While no one disputes the fact that cats do, indeed, hunt birds, isn’t it possible that when a bird such as the aggressive mockingbird attacks a cat, sometimes the cat will win and the bird will lose?

Lambert calls the birds in the study cited, “catbirds” which is a non-specific term for songbirds and includes the mockingbird, an aggressive bird.

We know about mockingbirds in Texas.  They are the  state bird. Photo courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Northern MockingbirdCourtesy TPWD


They will swoop down on people, and cats too.  For example, my grandmother had to cover her head when going out her back door in spring because mockingbirds nesting nearby would swoop down and peck at her scalp.  And, recently one of my cats, Nosey Nell, came running to me in the garage with a bloody gash on her head.  I don’t know where she got it, but possibly from a mockingbird.

Nosey Nell likes to sleep upside down

Nosey Nell likes to sleep upside down

All of which is to say, that some of the birds in the study cited by Lambert just might have been aggressive with cats.




Threat of cats is overstated

by Ron Lambert

In his recent letter (“Cats: Natural born killers,” March 9), Kurt Schwarz of the Maryland Ornithological Society asserted that cats kill billions of birds in this country each year. He encouraged people to review the scientific literature on birds and their predation. A key study was the Smithsonian Institute’s study on bird deaths published in 2011. The study investigated juvenile post-fledging survival for gray catbirds in three particular locations in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. This study included 69 birds, 42 of which died. Of these deaths, nine were attributed to cat predation, and the rest were attributed to other predators or other causes.

The study focused on a specific bird species at a specific age in a specific location, and included a very small sample size. Other studies of bird predation have similar characteristics. It is methodologically incorrect to use such findings to estimate national impacts on the bird population. Such samples are not representative of the national population and the small sample size makes national projections statistically meaningless.

Using statistics to demonize a particular animal such as cats is a fruitless exercise. It would behoove the Smithsonian Institute to work with other animal groups to seek practical, humane ways to protect birds.


What do you think in the Cats vs birds debate?


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Emily S Carter

My two beautiful little girl kitties came from ARF -- a rescue service in Wimberley. Maddie Bell, in the header photo, likes to help me make the bed.

Shelter cats are the best!


Making a difference to pet owners looking for their lost cat [or dog] – this is a place to post information about your animal and to provide contact information -- see the Lost Cat page.

Its also home to cat and dog stories -- see The Literary Cat page.


All text and images © copyright 2011 Emily S. Carter. All rights reserved.
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