There are nearly three billion fewer birds in North America today as compared to 1970, according to Science News.
While climate change and a variety of factors - such as clear-cutting trees - are cited for the decline, one that’s raising eyebrows is cats.
“Cats, all cats, regardless of whether you feed them or not, will still kill,” said Jody Willis, who is President of the Duval Audubon Society.
Appearing on Tuesday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, Willis said feral cats are non-native predators to birds.
The Duval Audubon Society asserts homeless and outdoor cats are contributing to the declining bird population in the U.S.
“There are probably about 60 to 100 million free ranging cats,” said Duval Audubon Society Board Member Carolyn Antman.
“Even if they disperse - the problem is reality - that the situation is so dire for birds that we really do need to take measures to eliminate the colonies all together,” said Willis.
The Audubon Society has taken the position that feral cats colonies need to be eliminated over time. When asked directly if that includes euthanizing some cats, Willis responded, “yes.”
Willis said domestic shorthair cats are “basically descended from African cats,” which she said is why native bird species have no way to protect themselves against cats.
The Audubon Society wants cat owners to keep their pets indoors.
“I'm a cat lover. I have two cats. I've always had cats. They've always been indoors and they've always been much healthier and they live much longer. An outdoor life for a cat is a very shortened life and a very painful one,” said Willis.
Jacksonville Humane Society CEO Denise Deisler said her organization has spent 11 years trying to eliminate colonies, not by killing the cats but by trapping and then spaying or neutering them.
“Getting 75-85% of them altered, as demonstrated in test communities and research, will keep that colony stable and prevent other cats from coming in and over time diminish that particular colony population and, over a longer period of time it may entirely eliminate that particular colony.”
The Jacksonville Humane Society has a program called "Trap Neuter Return," in which feral or community cats are spayed or neutered and then returned to where they were caught. A missing ear-tip is the universal sign that a feral cat has been altered.
Using Trap Neuter Return, the Humane Society’s Lindsay Layendecker said she’s reduced the number of feral cats in her neighborhood from 19 to just three.
“When the cats are not fixed, it does attract more cats. It’s not really the food that attracts them, it’s the unfixed, unsterilized cats. So if you stop that, you diminish the population.”
Additional information about the Jacksonville Humane Society's "no-kill" policy for free-roaming cats is available here.
While the Duval Audubon Society asserts cats are a contributing factor in the decline of birds, it says climate change accounts for about two-third's of the birds being threatened with extinction. More information about that aspect is available in the group's updated report, released this month, called: Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink and by listening to Tuesday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.