Birds in city parks benefit as coyotes stalk cats. But, hey, it’s best for the cats too-

Feral and stray cats (free roaming cats) are known to take a huge toll on birds, and the number of these small predators is burgeoning. There are perhaps as many as 40-million in the US alone. The number of the mid-sized, highly adaptable predator — the urban coyote — is growing too.

Cats love birds and coyotes love cats. Coyotes fare better in suburban/urban areas where there is more cover such as in parks, nature areas, and land by-passed by heavy development. Feral cats use these areas too, and there they hunt small wildlife. Birds are high on their list, arousing the ire of bird lovers and having a more widespread effect on the ecology.

Now a study at Ohio State University shows that coyotes keep down the cat population in the more natural urban/suburban areas in two ways — meals of cat and cat education. The latter is the most significant. The cats learn that life closer to houses is safer. Cats migrate out of the parks and live in areas where the researchers found the cats to be both fatter and less diseased. In effect, the urban area becomes divided into coyote zones and cat zones.

Read about the study. “Feral cats avoid urban coyotes: Are surprisingly healthy.” Ohio State University news release. “Blood tests indicated, for example, that the cats had little exposure to feline immunodeficiency virus, also called FIV or feline AIDS, and to feline leukemia virus.”

The study was done in the Chicago area. The paper indicates an amazing fact. There is one of the densest populations of coyote ever recorded in this area.

The whole matter of free ranging urban animals is of growing interest. This includes both real wildlife and feral species, and their interactions. Urban and suburban areas are a cornucopia of food for many of these animals, and they have moved in, especially in the Eastern US. There they are multiplying. This is an opportunity for many more studies and controversies such as the huge “surplus” of white-tailed deer.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

62 Responses to Study: Urban coyotes save birds from feral cats

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I put feral cats in the ‘man-made hazards’ column. They aren’t a native species. I’m skeptical also of the number of birds killed by them. I increasingly see this excuse used to justify bird kills by other man-made hazards such as wind farms, tall buildings, electrical power lines, and on and on, as if they all happen separately and have no connection to one another. It’s one of those pesky ‘half-truths’.

    The cats didn’t get here by themselves but were either abandoned or the result of not being spayed and neutered. All of these hazards are cumulative – it is not logical to say ‘yeah but, cats kill a lot of birds too!” Feral cats do not kill bald eagles and golden eagles.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      And feral cats eat rodents too, not just birds.

      Not to say that the study isn’t interesting, it is. It shows how the top predators keep the natural order, even when changed and modified by human activities. Just imagine if there were wolves in more of their native habitat.

      • avatar MJ says:

        “It shows how the top predators keep the natural order, even when changed and modified by human activities. Just imagine if there were wolves in more of their native habitat.”

        Exactly, the more we use lethal human intervention to manage wildlife and promote consumption the more we distort balance. It will be a challenge to correct the messes that we have made, and feral animals are a product of those choices. My opinion, stop doing harm. We may not know how to correct all but nature will know better than us.

      • avatar Reality Bytes says:

        If you think that cats are a good form of rodent control, then I suggest you study any of the myriad islands where they imported cats to get rid of the imported rodents. The native wildlife is now destroyed, and centuries later they have nothing but a healthy and happy predator-prey balance of cats and rodents. (Which they are finally trying to eradicate both destructive invasive species the proper ways.)

        Cats being good rodent control is a millennium-old myth spread by biased and blinded fools who can never think things through. Great civilizations have come in gone in cities where cats were used for rodent control, like Egypt, yet the cats AND rodents still remain.

        I could tell you why this cat/rodent balance happens, but I’d have to educate you up to at least a freshmen level of high-school education in biology and ecology.

    • avatar JB says:

      Ida:

      I have been skeptical of the numbers bandied about by bird advocates as well. For a long time they were based upon a couple of studies with small study areas. However, enough additional data is now available that it seems by any measure the number of birds killed by cats is extremely large.

      I have never seen the number of birds killed by cats used as a ‘justification’ for ignoring other types of hazards? I have pointed out in the past that it is hypocritical for people to scream about wind power as a hazard, and not support measures remove feral cats (which are estimated to kill many times the number of birds that windmills kill). After communicating multiple times with you and many others, I am left with the impression that you really don’t care at all about bird populations per se, you just want to stop people killing wildlife. If that is so, why not just be up front about it?

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Now wait a minute … I never said I didn’t support measures to control feral cats. I just said it was a hypocritical half truth to blame bird kills on them and hold it out as separate, when we’ve created that problem as well as all the others. USF&W reports themselves say that all the kills are cumulative, so we should try to mitigate all of them.

        I don’t know how we’re supposed to know how many birds, specifically raptors, that wind farms kill when the companies don’t have to report it, and now they have been given pretty much carte blanche by the Obama administration to continue on for 30 years! All with the assurances that they will try to fix the problem. We know how much promises by corporations and 25 cents will get you these days.

        I assure you as a long-time Audubon supporter, I care very much about birds and wildlife as well. But endangered birds thing as overpopulated invasives.

  2. avatar rork says:

    “My” coyotes (in MI) have supplied these services, as I’ve mentioned several times, and for me it might be the most valuable service they provide. They might help a tiny bit with the deer, but not enough.
    As for cats eat rodents – I’m glad there’s allot less of that going on too. I’ve got native animals to eat those, all of them fantastic. If you have non-native rodent issues, look to reduce their food supply.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      The article and study is about coyotes and feral cats in urban areas. There aren’t a lot of endangered birds in urban areas for a number of reasons. If there are too many birds generally interfering with human activities, our friendly neighborhood Wildlife Services also comes out and poisons them. So how do the feral cats figure in as public enemy number one?

      • avatar JB says:

        Ida: Birds are do not stay in one place. You’ve heard of migration, right? It happens every year, and believe it or not, birds go through urban areas.

      • avatar rork says:

        Ida:
        Nuthatch, brown creeper, hummingbird, pheobe, Carolina wren, junko, titmouse, and I could go on…
        OK, they aren’t endangered, unless you count the ones killed in my yard by cats.

        And guess what I think I might be getting with less cats eating birds and rodents – more cooper’s hawk, more barred owl, more weasel. Restrict yourself to urban if you want, I don’t have too.

        If feral cats aren’t number one, it doesn’t make them acceptable. If windmills kill birds it does not make cats acceptable.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          Then steps must be taken such as cat owners becoming more responsible, and to spay and neuter the feral cat population. We’re right on top of it when it comes to feral horses, and it can be corrected. What bothers me is the wind industry using it as propaganda and an excuse.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          I’m rural (and getting less so ever day, by the looks of the development going on around me). I have the full complement of everything but wolves in my backyard. The feral cat problem, if there is one, has been created by us. We just shouldn’t use it as an excuse to kill more wildlife by other means! It’s absurd.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          You need to support your theories with statistics. Real ones. No one said it was acceptable, except maybe the wind industry who seems to have an ‘everybody’s doing it, so why can’t we’ approach. There’s no sense that they want to correct it. Industry doesn’t have the best reputation in this regard.

          There’s a lot of things that affect birds – habitat loss being the biggest threat to them.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      rork,

      What’s the trapping situation around you for the native mousers? Hope to see a DNR presentation on martens and fishers this week. Wish folks would leave them and mink alone. Just another Koyaanisqatsi.

      • avatar rork says:

        Marten and Fisher are just way up north, not near me I think (1 per person per year together is the reg). Got mink, got weasel (least weasel I think, and maybe the bigger one some folks might call ermine), got fox and coyote, badger rare, bobcat essentially none still (except further north – regs complicated, 2 per person max). All have seasons, but I’ve never seen anyone actually trapping them or hunting them near me anymore except coyote, but farther north it gets more common. Weasel might be treated as varmint by some down here. Sadly, we only have 2-legged wolverines. I’m reporting for near me, by Ann Arbor – pretty far south.
        I am honored to observe any of these, and think there’s little point except tradition, tiny money for a few folks, and perhaps bragging (coyote, bobcat). I think most of these animals are worth way too much alive. Mink are getting pretty damn common I’m happy to report, and I think it is neglect (perhaps fur prices are low). Fox seems down, with coyote up.
        Cooper’s hawk and bard owl do lots for me, and maybe I’m seeing them more often.
        Regs in detail:
        http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/2013_HuntandTrap_Web_427932_7.pdf
        Will the citizens get tired of folks killing some of the more rare of these? Maybe so. But as you know we use science as determined by an appointed committee, not democratic processes.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Ida and all.

      Regarding the part of the linked article above that mentions the benefits of New York City coyote killing rodents, it is true. However, it is also very complicated because coyotes also kill or displace the rodent-eating foxes. The fox is, according to recent studies, much superior in killing the white footed mouse. This mouse is overwhelmingly the reservoir of Lyme Disease.

  3. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    It’s just a terrible excuse. A feral cat or a domestic cat that is allowed to roam is a human-created problem that can be corrected. Simply keep your pet cat indoors, have them spayed or neutered, and take steps to reduce the feral population.

    If that is done, what will the wind farms have to fall back on then? Now, I’m not against wind and solar – rooftop solar is a great idea to use land that has already been developed, and will continue to be, and smaller wind installations for smaller areas work great. The very large installations are the ones that get wildlife with a double-whammy – fragmenting habitat even further as well as killing them outright.

    • avatar MJ says:

      I don’t want to oversimplify a complex issue but there are basic concepts that are easy to lose site of. We are consumptive creatures. Management as we know it is still driven by seeking to reach short-term goals to serve human needs, sometimes serving special interests, without regard to a bigger picture or nature. As long as we continue to think this way we will continue to have “feral” animals (I hate that word).

      Ida, thank you for the article from NatGeo. The situation with strays in Romania now is horrible. The fate of wolves and wild mustangs in the U.S. is not better.

      When we kill off a species as an immediate solution to a bigger problem there are consequences. As long as decisions are made this way there will continue to be an overpopulation or underpopulation of a species. We need to prioritize working with nature, and think of ourselves as more than consumers.

      Despite the issues with wind or solar we still need to prioritize finding ways to make them feasible, given alternatives.

  4. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    That’s a lot of stray cats. We’re facing a feral dog crisis also, and feral hogs. But yet, all we hear about is the feral horses. If that doesn’t reek of special interests, I don’t know what does:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/08/0821_030821_straydogs.html

    • avatar mikepost says:

      Ida, your slip is showing….
      All feral species in the wild should be eliminated in some way or fashion. You amy well be right that hogs will one day elcipse feral horses as destructive but that does not mean that they don’t need to go.

  5. avatar Reality Bytes says:

    Unfortunately, this study is in error. The researcher failed to observe something that I discovered over a decade ago.

    The coyotes aren’t training the cats where to stay. The reverse is occurring. As the cats’ territories spread further those cats with bold-patterned coats having been bred into them will drive the coyotes even further away.

    These animals are not partitioning themselves into each unique area based on the factors that the researcher declared. Instead it is the cats’ coat-patterns that have been bred into these invasive species cats by humans that is causing this perfectly natural but unusual anomaly.

    Please read this post (of mine) that explains a discovery of my own which I had made well over a decade ago during my own cat-eradication attempts on my own lands. Using native predators for this task was a complete failure for precisely this reason.

    neighbors D0T denverpost D0T com SLASH viewtopic D0T php?source=phpbb_art_viewall&t=22154584#p2781776

    It will completely explain how and why native predators (on any continent) cannot, do not, and will not keep these man-made invasive species cat populations under control. I alerted Australian researches and authorities on why this anomaly happens with these man-made domesticated cats when they found that increasing Dingo populations also did nothing to curtail cats breeding rates. No sense throwing more research money down the tubes while cats continue to annihilate every ecosystem on earth.

    All the while humans are desperately hoping that nature is going to clean-up this man-made ecological disaster for you. Sorry. Not going to happen this time. Man has to clean-up this man-made mess this time, in the quickest and most affordable method possible. For these cats have already bred beyond your reach by using ANY means in many communities.

  6. avatar snaildarter says:

    Coyotes are really American Jackals., Jackals, cats, and many of the same song birds live together naturally in the North African ecosystem. So I think having coyotes spread all across America neutralizes the cat problem. I also think Audubon is on a witch hunt, they inflate the numbers of birds killed by house cats. I’m not saying that wild house cats are not a problem but coyotes are an effective predator that helps bring balance.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      Audubon doesn’t single out the feral cats, but warns of all of the human-caused hazards to birds. It’s easy to screech about the cats because humans don’t want to have to compromise their lifestyles – the cell phone towers, power lines, tall buildings, and too much development.

    • avatar Marion A. says:

      It’s not just Audubon, just search the internet for articles about cats killing birds and you will see basically everyone who should know names cats as a great bird killer.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        It depends on which birds. Surely for European starlings and house sparrows which are introduced, non-native species that compete for nest sites and food with our native birds, it would be good to keep their populations controlled naturally. But cats do not kill bald eagles, golden eagles, and snowy owls, which is the subject of a lot of other man-made dangers to raptors and other birds.

  7. avatar snaildarter says:

    Coyotes are also much more effective deer hunters than previously thought. We had 50,000 auto-deer collisions in Georgia last year. We can use an urban deer predator. I’m sure problem is just as bad if not worse in the Northern Rockies.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      FYI:

      http://www.flatheadnewsgroup.com/hungryhorsenews/article_03792026-2d35-11e3-859d-001a4bcf887a.html

      Result of keeping all predator populations to “management” levels for a few?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      My tendency is to think that suburban coyotes are of considerable benefit except in Lyme Disease country when the coyotes displace foxes (foxes being the primry predator of the Lyme Disease carrier, the white footed mouse).

      Coyotes help keep down the deer population somewhat and also the larger rodents.

      Lyme Disease is becoming a really big threat, and the white footed mouse, which carries hantavirus as well, is just too small for coyotes to bother with.

      There are suburban deer problems all over the country, but especially white-tailed deer east of the Mississippi where the forest of 200 years ago has regrown. It does not contain the same species of trees, but the land is mostly covered by trees of some kind.

      More and more wildlife is going in enter built up landscapes because there is a good corridor and plenty of food.

      I wish there were a lot more owls to pluck off some of those feral cats.

      • avatar JEFF E says:

        “I wish there were a lot more owls to pluck off some of those feral cats.”

        Actually seen that happen once.

        owls take no hostages.

        unfortunately far too many are killed along interstate corridors.

  8. avatar Sid says:

    By the time Coyotes got established in San Francisco, the quail population had been brought down by cats to just a few males. Now rabbits and quails are locally extinct, You used to see a lot of feral cats and now I never see any. Wish the coyotes came about 10 years earlier.

  9. avatar snaildarter says:

    Maybe they’ll come back wildlife has a way of re-populating areas if the opportunity to survive returns.

  10. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I have to smile because the biggest threat to wildlife everywhere is the 7 billion people and counting on this planet, and all of the habitat we take up. Our cities, roads, airports, schools, automobiles, chemicals and drugs, trash, food supplies, Las Vegas, water needs, energy needs, domestic pets, and all that we waste, on and on and on. We also think that everyone on earth deserves this kind of lifestyle. There’s nothing we can do about that, and propaganda isn’t going to change it. Thinking we can stop climate change at this point is a fool’s errand.

    • avatar Reality Bytes says:

      While it is true that overpopulation of humans is the #1 problem that we and all other species face today; this still doesn’t excuse all the responsible, wise, and intelligent people from stopping all the ecological disasters caused by those phenomenally stupid and criminally negligent people who should have never been born in the very first place.

      Cats are a man-made (through selective breeding) invasive species. And as such, cats being a product of man’s intervention, are no less of a man-made environmental disaster than any oil-spill, radiation-fallout, chemical-spill, or other environmental disaster _caused_by_man_. Cats are _not_exempt_ from having to be removed from every natural environment, wherever and whenever they are found away from supervised confinement. Just as you would do all you can to remove Zebra Mussels from any waterway where they don’t belong. Or Burmese Pythons and African Cichlids from every habitat where they exist in N. America today. Burmese Pythons and African Cichlids started out as pets too. Many of our destructive invasive species pests started out as PETS discarded by criminally-irresponsible humans. And guess what happens to all those other non-native pets that became destructive invasive species? They are destroyed on-site by any means possible — no questions asked — none required.

      Cats are even worse than an oil-spill of multi-continent-sized proportions. They not only kill off rare and endangered marine-mammals along all coastlines (just as all oil-spills do) from run-off from the land carrying cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasites, they also destroy the complete food-chain in every ecosystem where cats are found today. From smallest of prey that is gutted and skinned alive for cats’ tortured play-toys (not even used for food, just for senseless play), up to the top predators that are starved to death from cats destroying their ONLY food sources. (Precisely what cats caused on my own land not long ago.) They don’t destroy just birds. They destroy everything that moves — directly or indirectly. They will even destroy valuable native vegetation by destroying those animals that are required pollinators for those plants or those that act as seed dispersers for those plants (as many smaller rodent and bird species do) or those that act as pest-control for those plants. Cats can and will wipe out whole ecosystems eventually — animal and plant.

      Cats need to be made to disappear from all non-native habitats — PERMANENTLY. And the sooner the better. They are breeding out of control at an exponential rate. The reason for “the sooner the better” is that you can only hope you can halt the problem before it is beyond the reach of any method you eventually choose. Luckily, I caught the problem in time where I live by humanely shooting and burying every last cat I spotted, collared or not — for you must destroy the strays with collars too, they are the very source of the feral-cat problem.

      It seems nobody else is faring as well — their time is being wasted by mentally impaired cat-lickers who are trying to stop everyone from doing the right thing. Asking or listening to any deranged invasive species advocate for advice on how to clean up the ecological disaster that they created and perpetuate is about as useful as asking your local career thieves for their advice and help to hide your valuables from their daily motives, goals, and activities. Ignore anything they might say and you too will solve the problem where you live.

      It worked 100% where I live!

      • avatar snaildarter says:

        this is non-sense. I agree feral cats are a problem but neutered domestic house cats that might kill 3 or 4 birds a year? There are a couple of studies in England that support the idea that they are two completely separate issues. Cat haters are just as irrational as wolf haters.

      • avatar JEFF E says:

        cites?

  11. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Here’s a question as this topic deals with urban areas. How many of the cat-bird kills compensatory? What I mean is when fledglings leave the nest, but can’t really fly, they become vulnerable to any sort of calamity. How many of these fledglings survive, cats notwithstanding. I’m not defending feral cats in urban areas, just asking a question.

  12. avatar Marion A. says:

    I live in Vancouver, BC and we have thousands of coyotes in the city. They stick to the bush areas very well and we rarely see them. Recently we heard that a contractor clearing some brush found a coyote’s den with 24 cat collars in it!! So that coyote likely saved hundreds of birds.

    • avatar ma'iingan says:

      “Recently we heard that a contractor clearing some brush found a coyote’s den with 24 cat collars in it!!”

      I think someone’s pulling your leg. Coyotes don’t eat their prey in the den.

      • avatar JB says:

        Perhaps he was a trophy hunter? ;)

        • avatar ma'iingan says:

          AKA serial killer?

            • avatar Jon Way says:

              I have heard iterations of coyotes bring deer fawns, cat and/or dog collars, and cats back to a den. This is an old wives tale as they don’t bring food back to dens and keep dens clean (and move them regularly). This is done to make the animals look bad and I have heard every story in a negative light. Plus, the thought of someone seeing all those deer fawns or cats being brought back, even on a trailcam, is highly improbable.

      • avatar rork says:

        I find “toys” around coyote and fox dens, even human toys like rubber balls. Maybe 24 is a bit much, and maybe “in it” isn’t accurate.

  13. avatar snaildarter says:

    I sure a coyote would walk right by a fledging and not bother it.
    Unfortunately a lot house cats end up gassed at the pound because they have trouble being inside all the time. So I have been doing a careful survey because do not believe that a neutered pet is the problem with declining bird populations. When I purchased my house there were 14 feral cats living there. Three moms and 11 kittens. I got them all fixed and proceeded to give them away. Roaming neighborhood dogs killed two of the kittens. I found homes for 7 and coyotes or owls killed three more. Nine years later I still have two toms who are allowed outside in the day time. I agree that they are amazing hunters. They catch a lot of rodents, and insects, a few snakes, frogs and lizards, and together 3 or 4 birds a year. Last year it was 2 wrens, a titmouse and a fledging blue jay. I successfully release about 80% of what they catch. Except for rats, we have serious roof rat infestation in our area. Most of the other casualties are voles and lizards they are both pretty fragile. Also regrettably the Blue jay didn’t make either. But year after year the bird population and everything else seems stable. Except for the rats, they are a constant increasing battle. My neighbors put out poison,these issues are complicated, You can’t just blame cats.

  14. avatar Donald J. Jackson says:

    Actually reality,

    You probably had you messages lost in the move from one server to another, I know some of my messages also disappeared during the move and it made a lot of sense when Ralph posted the message from the company that he hosts this blog with.

    But reading your lead in to your post, it would not surprise me if you are being deleted, nice criticize the owner of the website then expect to have free reign to post what you want!

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Donald J. Jackson

      Reality Bytes has “gone away.” He wrote (and tried to post) the most profane messages I have received. The construction of his insults was also poorly done. There is a logic to effective cursing. I told him so.

      He did not score well in his defense of shooting feral cats.

      • avatar Donald J. Jackson says:

        I was just surprised when I read this message! Yikes, there are many ways to disagree, that was not the right way.

        By the way, you can call me DJ

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey