How many birds are killed by cats in Australia?

J. C.Z. Woinarski, B. P. Murphy, S. M. Legge, S. T. Garnett, M. J. Lawes, S. Comer, C. R. Dickman, T. S. Doherty, G. Edwards, A. Nankivell, D. Paton, R. Palmer, L. A. Woolley

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    From analysis of results from 93 studies on the frequency of occurrence of birds in cat dietary samples, and a recently published assessment of the population size of feral cats in largely natural landscapes, we estimate and map the number of birds killed annually in Australia by feral cats. We show that average rates of predation on birds by cats on islands are ca. 10 times higher than for comparable mainland areas. Predation rates on birds are also relatively high in hot, arid regions. Across Australia's natural landscapes, feral cats typically consume 272 million birds yr− 1 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 169–508 million). However, there is substantial inter-annual variation, depending on changes in the cat population that are driven by rainfall conditions: ranging between 161 million birds yr− 1 (95% CI: 114–284 million) following dry periods and 757 million birds yr− 1 (95% CI: 334–1580 million) following wet periods. On average, feral cats kill 35.6 birds km− 2 yr− 1 (95% CI: 22.2–66.6). About 99% of these mortalities are native bird species. With a much sparser evidence base, we also estimate that a further 44 million birds are killed annually by feral cats in highly modified landscapes, and 61 million birds are killed annually by pet cats, summing to 377 million birds killed yr− 1 (i.e., just over 1 million birds per day) by all cats. Feral cats include a significantly higher proportion of birds in their diet than do other main mammalian predators. The national tally of birds killed by cats in Australia is broadly comparable to recent assessments for Canada, but less than that reported for the United States (because the cat population is much higher there). However, it remains challenging to interpret this mortality tally in terms of population viability or conservation concern for Australian birds.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)76-87
    Number of pages12
    JournalBiological Conservation
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


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