Nobody knows for sure how many songbirds, game birds and assorted small mammals fall prey to stray and domestic cats every year, but the toll is estimated to be in the millions.
The American Bird Conservancy recently released a report detailing ways the public can help protect various species in any given area, and the No. 1 step is to control predatory cats.
Cats -- ranging from domestic pets to stray ferals -- are natural-born predators.
There's little that can be done to prevent a domestic cat from preying on birds and small animals in its immediate area -- if it goes outside, it will instinctively stalk any feathered for furred target of opportunity. Well-fed house cats seldom eat what they kill.
What can be controlled is the proliferation of stray and feral cats. Most of them are the result of irresponsible owners who refuse to neuter their pets and often dump unwanted litters in the wild.
Those cats are forced to hunt to survive.
Dogs likewise often prey on wildlife, especially taking a toll on young animals during the spring and summer.
Dogs, like cats, react by instinct, chasing animals such as deer and rabbits. Owners have an obligation to keep their dogs on their property and under control.
In addition to controlling predatory pets, the Bird Conservancy's report listed some other actions that can be taken to help protect birds:
+ Leave nests, eggs and baby birds alone. Disturbing them can be fatal.
+ Be careful when spraying pesticides or insecticides. Avoid spraying areas in which birds may be nesting or hatching, and limit spraying in general because the poisons often end up in the birds' food chain.
+ Don't release balloons in the air. Once deflated they not only become litter, but are sometimes ingested by various species of birds.
+ Don't discard fishing line outdoors. Birds can become fatally entangled.
Another report expressed concern about the toll on birds being taken by power-producing windmills.
Windmills have been especially destructive to such species as raptors and vultures, killing them by the thousands in many areas where the giant windmills exist in large numbers.
Because the land around the windmills is cleared, it is ideal habitat for small birds and mammals. Those attract birds of prey, which are killed when they are drawn into the wind mill turbines.
Also, flocks of migrating birds often fly into the turbines, and the carnage in turn attracts vultures, which become further victims of the spinning blades.
On top of all that -- predatory pets, litter and man-made hazards -- is the steady
loss of habitat to. Thousands of acres of fields and forest are lost every year to development.
The American Bird Conservancy concludes that the situation is problem is critical, and that the solution lies with the humans who are causing most of the problems.