Devolution In the Classroom: Three Editions of F. Gill’s “Ornithology”

For more than 20 years now, Gill’s classic text has been required reading for ornithology students. While the book’s attention to conservation issues has expanded over its three editions, its treatment of the impact of cats on bird populations reflects an unsettling shift away from science.

The hoards of students descending upon college campuses this fall will—despite the rise of the eco-friendly PDF and a great variety of online content—more often than not find their arms and backpacks stuffed with old-school printed-and-bound books. Among them will be Frank Gill’s Ornithology, a regular offering on campus bookstore shelves for 21 years now.

Gill’s Ornithology is, I’m told by one Vox Felina reader, “considered (at least in these parts) the text regarding ornithology.” From what I can tell, it’s popularity as required reading for third- and fourth-year undergraduates isn’t limited to any one region of the country. Indeed, according to, the book is “the classic text for the undergraduate ornithology course.” Its third edition, published in 2007, “maintains the scope and expertise that made the book so popular while incorporating a tremendous amount of new research.”

Unfortunately, none of this new research made it into the section—a single paragraph—meant to address the “threat” of cats. Indeed, students interested in this topic are better off with the first edition, published 17 years earlier.

First Edition
“The numbers of deaths attributable directly or indirectly to human actions each year during the 1970s are staggering,” writes Gill in the 1990 edition of Ornithology, “but are apparently minor in relation to the population level.” [1] Citing a 1979 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report by Richard C. Banks, Gill continues:

“Human activities are responsible for roughly 270 million bird deaths every year in the continental United States. This seemingly huge number is less than two percent of the 10 to 20 billion birds that inhabit the continental United States and appears to have no serious effect on the viability of any of the populations themselves, unlike human destruction of breeding habitat and interference with reproduction… Miscellaneous accidents such as impact with golf balls, electrocution by transmission lines, and cat predation, may amount to 3.5 million deaths a year.” [1]

Predation by cats (included under “All Other Indirect”), then, according to Banks, represents about 1.3 percent of overall human-caused mortality—a loss of, at most, 0.04 percent of the U.S. bird population annually. By contrast, hunting and “collision with man-made objects” combine to make up “about 90 percent of the avian mortality documented” in Banks’ report. [2]

Second Edition
Five years later, in the second edition, the story changes dramatically. Gill discards Banks’ reference to cats and uses his 270 million figure purely for dramatic effect—the set-up for a punch line in the form of Rich Stallcup’s back-of-the-envelope guesswork (which Stallcup himself considered “probably a low estimate” [3]). Gill even includes a bar chart to drive the point home. (Apparently, he didn’t find Banks’ pie chart compelling enough to include in the his first edition of Ornithology.)

“Human activities are directly responsible for roughly 270 million bird deaths every year in the continental United States, about 2 percent of the 10 to 20 billion birds that inhabit the continental United States (Banks 1979)… Dwarfing these losses are those attributable to predation by pets. Domesticated cats in North America may kill 4 million songbirds every day, or perhaps over a billion birds each year (Stallcup 1991). Millions of hungrier, feral (wild) cats add to this toll, which is not included in the estimate of 270 million bird deaths each year.” [4]

But Stallcup’s “estimate”—published in the Observer, a publication of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (which Stallcup co-founded)—lacks even the slightest scientific justification. In fact, “A Reversible Catastrophe” is little more than Stallcup’s advice—at once both folksy and sinister—about defending one’s garden from neighborhood cats (“…try a B-B or pellet gun. There is no need to kill or shoot toward the head, but a good sting on the rump seems memorable for most felines, and they seldom return for a third experience.” [3]).

“Let’s do a quick calculation, starting with numbers of pet cats. Population estimates of domestic house cats in the contiguous United States vary somewhat, but most agree the figure is between 50 and 60 million. On 3 March 1990, the San Francisco Chronicle gave the number as 57.9 million, ‘up 19 percent since 1984.’ For this assessment, let’s use 55 million.

“Some of these (maybe 10 percent) never go outside, and maybe another 10 percent are too old or too slow to catch anything. That leaves 44 million domestic cats hunting in gardens, marshes, fields, thickets, empty lots, and forests.

“It is impossible to know how many of those actively hunting animals catch how many birds, but the numbers are high. To be very conservative, say that only one in ten of those cats kills only one bird a day. This would yield a daily toll of 4.4 million songbirds!! Shocking, but true—and probably a low estimate (e.g., many cats get multiple birds a day).” [3]

It’s hardly surprising that Stallcup’s “estimate” grossly exaggerates predation rates since his research never went any further than the Chronicle’s mention of the U.S. pet cat population. His assumptions about how many of these cats go outdoors and their success as hunters stand in stark contrast to the trend suggested by pet owner survey results and various predation studies (some of which suggest that just 36–56 per­cent of cats are hunters. [5, 6])

(It was, no doubt, the “shocking” aspect of Stallcup’s numbers that appealed to Nico Dauphine, who, in her “Apocalypse Meow” presentation, acknowledges that Stallcup “didn’t do a study” but nevertheless concludes, inexplicably, that his “is a conservative estimate.”)

Unnatural Selection
So, how did Stallcup’s indefensible “estimate” make it into the standard ornithology textbook? It was, Gill told me recently by e-mail, “one of the few refs [he] could find.”

Referring to what he calls “the great cat debates,” Gill writes: “I claim no great expertise or authority… now or in the ancient histories of early textbook editions.”

Fair enough. Writing, editing, and revising multiple editions of Ornithology was an enormous undertaking—one for which Gill deserves much credit. But there was, available at the time, work by scientists who, unlike Stallcup actually studied predation. Indeed, even before the first edition of Ornithology was published, a great deal of work had been done—and compiled in the first edition (published in 1988) of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. In it, Mike Fitzgerald, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, reviewed 61 predation studies, concluding:

“Predation on songbirds by domestic cats is noticed because it takes place during the day, whereas much predation on mammals takes place at night. People generally enjoy having songbirds in their gardens, and providing food in winter may increase the numbers of birds. When cats kill some of these birds, people assume that cats are reducing the bird populations. However, although this predation is so visible, and unpopular, remarkably little attempt has been made to assess its impact on populations of songbirds.” [7]

Two years later, Fitzgerald had a brief letter on the subject published in Environmental Conservation. His comments are as relevant today as they were some 21 years ago:

“Before embarking… on programmes to educate the public so that they will pressure elected officials to act on ‘cat delinquency,’ we must discover what effect domestic cats really have on the wildlife populations in various urban localities—not merely what effect we assume they have on the basis of prey brought home by cats in one English village. Although we know what prey cats bring home in a few urban localities, we do not know what effect this predation has on the prey populations, or how the wildlife populations might differ if cat populations were reduced. Until we have this information we cannot ensure sound educational programmes. We should perhaps also try to discover what values urban people place on their wildlife and their pets—it seems likely that many of the people who love their pets also treasure the wildlife.” [8]

Surely, Fitzgerald’s work would have been more appropriate for, and useful to, Ornithology’s audience. Instead, unsuspecting undergraduates were treated to biased editorializing dressed up as science.

Third Edition
Gill tells me I wasn’t the first to “react… to the Stallcup paper,” and that the push-back was sufficient to prompt its removal from the third edition. Gone, too, is Banks’ report. Instead, Gill employs the now-common kitchen-sink approach, rattling off a litany of sins—borrowed, it seems, from the American Bird Conservancy.

“Domestic house cats in North America, for example, may kill hundreds of millions of songbirds each year. Farmland and barnyard cats kill roughly 39 million birds (and lots of mice, too) each year. Millions of hungrier, feral (wild) cats add to this toll. There is a common-sense solution. Letting cats roam outside the house shortens their expected life span from 12.5 years to 2.5 years and increases their risk of rabies, distemper, toxoplasmosis, and parasites. Evidence is mounting that cats help to spread diseases such as Asian bird flu. The message is clear: Keep pet cats inside for their own well being and for the future of backyard birds (” [9]

That 39 million birds figure, of course, comes from the infamous “Wisconsin Study,” the authors of which claim: “The most reasonable estimates indicate that 39 million birds are killed in the state each year.” [10] (The “reason” is, in fact, notably absent from Coleman and Temple’s figure—which can be traced to “a single free-ranging Siamese cat” that frequented a rural residential property in New Kent County, Virginia. [11])

Its implied use as a nationwide estimate, Gill says, was “a lapse.” The more serious lapse by far, though—not in copyediting but in judgment—is Gill’s endorsement of ABC.

A Constructive Approach
While he readily admits that he’s “not tracked nor verified [ABC’s] stats (and have paid precious little attention to the issue for almost 10 years),” Gill’s support is unwavering.

“ABC has taken a lead role on the cat-bird issues, generally with a constructive approach, which I applaud, given how polarized the debates can be.”

Constructive? As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, no organization has been more effective at working the anti-TNR pseudoscience into a message neatly packaged for the mainstream media, and eventual consumption by the general public. (The Wildlife Society, though, which shares ABC’s penchant for bumper-sticker science and public discourse via sound-bites, is at least as eager to participate in the witch-hunt.)

Among the more glaring examples: senior policy advisor, Steve Holmer’s claim, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, that “there are about… 160 million feral cats [nationwide]” [12]; ABC’s promotion of “Feral Cats and Their Management,” with its absurd $17B economic impact “estimate,” published last year by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and the numerous errors, exaggerations, and misrepresentations that persist in their brochure Domestic Cat Predation On Birds and Other Wildlife (PDF)—including a rather significant blunder that Ellen Perry Berkeley brought to light seven years ago in her book TNR Past, Present and Future. [13]

A constructive approach begins, by necessity, with sound science. But when it comes to the issue of free-roaming cats, at least, ABC has demonstrated neither an interest nor an aptitude.

So how does such an organization end up as the sole resource listed in a widely-used undergraduate textbook? (One written by the same man who served as the National Audubon Society’s chief scientist from 1996 to 2005, no less.) What’s next—physiology and nutrition books directing students to the PepsiCo Website for their hydration lesson? Psychology texts deferring to Pfizer (makers of Zoloft) on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors?

Frank Gill’s View
Gill never responded to my follow-up questions for this post. Still, his comments during our first exchange shed some light on his general attitude toward cats. “I have owned some wonderful (Siamese) cats in my life,” Gill explained, “so I do view them positively in many ways. But when they are dumped near a research station by returning vacationers and then eat the ringed birds I have been studying for many years, I take a different view.”

He followed this last sentence with a smiley-face emoticon, though the joke was clearly wasted on me.

“My informal view now is that managed feral cat colonies are potentially a serious threat to local bird populations, including both migrants that stopover in urban parks and endangered shorebird colonies. Sustaining those colonies should be prohibited generally. The return of coyotes to suburban landscapes is most welcome both to add a top predator to these ecosystems and to counter the numbers of feral cats as well as other midsized predators that impact breeding productivity. Just their presence in a neighborhood should persuade cat owners to keep their cats safely inside!”

•     •     •

It would be a mistake to suggest that the sloppy, flawed research I spend so much time critiquing can be traced directly to the second or third editions of Frank Gill’s textbook. Still, for many students, the path to a degree in ornithology (and onto related graduate degrees) leads through the book of the same name. As such, Ornithology may well be their first exposure to issues of population dynamics, conservation, and the like.

First impressions tend to be lasting ones. If, as a wide-eyed undergraduate, you “learned” that cats kill up to four million songbirds every day, how might that shape your future studies? Your career? What if you “learned” that such predation takes a $17B toll on the country annually?

Considering the tremendous burden we’re placing on future generations, why would we hobble them—before they even get started, really—with such misinformation and bias? They’ve got more than enough on their plate without having to fact-check their textbooks, too.

Literature Cited
1. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 1st ed. 1990, New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. 660.

2. Banks, R.C., Special Scientific Report—Wildlife No. 215. 1979, United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service: Washington, DC. p. 16.

3. Stallcup, R., “A reversible catastrophe.” Observer 91. 1991(Spring/Summer): p. 8–9.

4. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 2nd ed. 1995, New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

5. Perry, G. Cats—perceptions and misconceptions: Two recent studies about cats and how people see them. in Urban Animal Management Conference. 1999.

6. Millwood, J. and Heaton, T. The metropolitan domestic cat. in Urban Animal Management Conference. 1994.

7. Fitzgerald, B.M., Diet of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations, in The Domestic cat: The biology of its behaviour, D.C. Turner and P.P.G. Bateson, Editors. 1988, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York. p. 123–147.

8. Fitzgerald, B.M., “Is Cat Control Needed to Protect Urban Wildlife? Environmental Conservation. 1990. 17(02): p. 168-169.

9. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 3rd ed. 2007, New York: W.H. Freeman. xxvi, 758 p.

10. Coleman, J.S., Temple, S.A., and Craven, S.R., “Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma.” 1997.

11. Mitchell, J.C. and Beck, R.A., “Free-Ranging Domestic Cat Predation on Native Vertebrates in Rural and Urban Virginia.” Virginia Journal of Science. 1992. 43(1B): p. 197–207.

12. Yoshino, K. (2010, January 17). A catfight over neutering program. Los Angeles Times, from,0,1225635.story

13. Berkeley, E.P., TNR Past present and future: A history of the trap-neuter-return movement. 2004, Bethesda, MD: Alley Cat Allies.

Community Service

On October 24th, Nico Dauphine is scheduled to appear in court, charged with attempted animal cruelty related to the poisoning of cats in her Columbia Heights neighborhood. (The latest continuance, requested by the prosecution and granted earlier this month, pushes the trial date back two full months.)

It won’t be the first time her “involvement” with cats has landed her in front of a judge.

Three years ago, while she was a PhD student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Dauphine was in an Athens-Clarke County court seeking a judgment against a woman whose cat she’d trapped and turned in to the Athens Area Humane Society. I don’t know that her testimony will have any bearing on the case brought by the Washington Humane Society, but it speaks volumes about her attitude toward cats—owned and feral alike (and contradicts the statement made by her attorney following her arrest in May: “her whole life is devoted to the care and welfare of animals”).

Her testimony also raises additional questions about her willingness and/or ability to be truthful, even under oath. (I say additional because, as I’ve pointed out more than once, Dauphine’s professional work is simply indefensible in terms of its scientific underpinnings—as she demonstrated in the collection of “facts” she complied for the Spring Issue of The Wildlife Professional and in her infamous “Apocalypse Meow” presentation to an audience of students and local birders at Warnell in 2009.)

The Case
What follows is an edited version of the transcribed court proceedings—focusing on testimony by both Dauphine and the witness for the defense. The names of the people involved (other than Dauphine’s, obviously) have been omitted (as denoted by […]) throughout. (Note: As a matter of convenience, I refer to the cat’s owner as the defendant in the case; in fact, I’m not sure that’s the correct term for a dispute brought before a magistrate court.)

A little background: The defendant’s cat (its rhinestone color clearly indicating that it was somebody’s pet) had been missing for 16 days when Dauphine turned it in to the Athens Area Humane Society. Out of frustration and a determination to make public Dauphine’s trapping activities, the defendant created a blog/website (taken down voluntarily after the court hearing “to make it all go away,” as one of the people involved put it to me recently).

Dauphine’s Testimony I
The proceedings began with the judge magistrate explaining to the defendant the process and the options available to her:

…my decision today is to decide whether or not to issue an arrest warrant against you for simple assault, for terroristic threats, or for any other criminal activity that I hear, or to issue a good behavior bond against you.

Now, I could not arrest you for anything, hold the matter under advisement and just order you to do certain things and not do certain things, and as long as you abide by the terms of my order, you’ll not be arrested—but if you violate my order, then I can arrest you on these charges and any other future charges that might happen. Or I could decide that you did nothing wrong and dismiss it altogether. Those are the choices that I have this morning. Do you understand those choices?

The defendant agreed, and both parties were sworn in. Dauphine then described the series of events that led to her appearance in court—beginning with her April 15 visit to the Athens Area Humane Society, when she turned in eight cats—one of which belonged to the defendant. There, she was “confronted” by an AAHS volunteer who was “very aggressive and angry.”

“… she said that she didn’t want me to bring cats there, and that… if any of the cats belonged to them, they would be very angry. She said she was going to try to come after me for animal cruelty, and made a number of other threats.”

Three days later, Dauphine received a call from AAHS.

“They said that that morning, Friday morning the 18th, they had gotten a call from a woman who lived in an apartment complex on Barnett Shoals—that this woman had picked up a cat… that I had trapped… They warned me that this person might come to my house and hurt me.”

Dauphine then described her subsequent interactions with AAHS and the police, as well as her discovery of the blog created by the defendant. The judge magistrate then asked Dauphine about her trapping activities.

Judge Magistrate: So, have you ever gone onto the property at Cambridge Apartments and set traps for animals?
Nico Dauphine: I have not trapped there. I have several friends there and have been on the property many, many times.

JM: But you never set a trap for animals?
ND: Correct.

JM: And so the animals that you took to the shelter on April 15—how many were there?
ND: There were—I had eight cats with me.

JM: Eight cats?
ND: That’s correct.

JM: And where did you get them from?
ND: They were from—one or two were from Tivoli Apartments.

JM: Timberly?
ND: Tivoli Apartments, which is on Cedar Shoals: T-I-V-O-L-I.

JM: Oh yeah, and how did you get them?
ND: You set humane live traps and you put food in them and the animal goes in.

JM: Do you live at Tivoli?
ND: No, my friend […] lives at Tivoli.

JM: So why would you do that at Tivoli if you don’t live there?
ND: Oh, I do it basically as a community service, because I volunteered at Athens-Clarke County Animal Control for many years, and they’ve told me that one of their big problems that there’s no public service to pick up cats, but a lot of people have concerns about stray cats around.

JM: So it’s your mission to just go to apartment complexes and pick up stray cats and take them to the animal shelter?
ND: My mission is, when people—well, I mean, I have other things that I do—

JM: Let’s just talk about this one.
ND: Okay. If people ask me—I’ve had a number of people ask me to help them if they have cats on their property.

JM: Are you doing it for the landlord or are you doing it for the tenants?
ND: I’m doing—well yeah, either way.

JM: But suppose the cats belong to somebody?
ND: Well then the animal—they can be reunited with their animals at the animal shelter.

JM: Why do you make people go through that though? I don’t understand. You just go from apartment to apartment just taking up animals and taking them to the shelter?
ND: Only if people are concerned about cats there and they ask me to help them.

JM: So you took eight on April 15th—which, you got one to two from Tivoli, and where did the others come from?
ND: A couple came from my neighborhood.

JM: Which is where?
ND: East Meadow Drive…

JM: And—
ND: And the others came from off Peter Street at an address of a colleague of mine there.

JM: So who gave you permission on Peter Street?
ND: The colleague of mine.

JM: And was that—the animal is picked up at your colleague’s house, or just along the street?
ND: Yeah—no, at his house he has a lot of stray cats that come around. He doesn’t know.

JM: And so he doesn’t want them there so you set the humane traps and—
ND: That’s correct.

JM: —pick up the animals and take them to the shelter?
ND: That’s correct.

JM: That’s a new one for me. Okay. So this person that created this website is accusing you of having taken animals from Cambridge Apartments?
ND: Mmm-hmm.

JM: So have you ever set at trap at Cambridge Apartments to pick up animals from there?
ND: No, I haven’t.

JM: Okay. And the website accuses you of having set traps for animals for years. So have you been doing this for quite a while?
ND: No. I’ve only been doing it—I’ve done it at my own home which I own for about two years but I’ve only started helping other people if they need help for about six or eight months, something like that.

JM: Okay.
ND: I’ve also had the police ask me for help because it’s—there is no public service, and sometimes people leave a house with 50 cats. This happened recently. I know a number of people in the same situation.

(A search of the Banner-Herald for the first half of 2008 reveals only one possible incident fitting Dauphine’s description: “Wilford Bradford Sims, 48, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty… for leaving dozens of cats to fend for themselves in a house he abandoned” in the fall of 2007. According to the paper, although “investigators at the time called it one of the worst cases of animal neglect they’d seen,” all of the cats “found homes, including several that became barn cats, according to the Humane Society.” [1] Was Dauphine implying that she was somehow involved?)

JM: So do you work for the animal shelter, or you do this on your own?
ND: I work for the Forestry School and so we have access to humane live traps through them and—

JM: You use their traps?
ND: Uh-huh, and I’ve done a lot of volunteer work for Animal Control, and that’s how I learned about the whole situation and problem.

JM: Yeah.
ND: They say they get calls all the time—people concerned about cats and they want them to be picked up so they can be—they can find homes, they can get adopted, they can be reunited with their owners, but there’s no public service to do that.

JM: So are you aware of any cats that you’ve picked up that have been killed by the—because they had too many because—
ND: The—you know—the Athens Area Humane Society has a policy of not—

JM: Euthanizing them?
ND: —they do not euthanize socialized cats, period. So there’s never been a socialized cat that I’ve picked up that’s been killed. In fact, by contrast, I think 24 cats I’ve brought in have been able to find homes—new homes—be adopted because they were strays and they were abandoned.

A few comments are in order at this point:

Dauphine fails to acknowledge that pets brought in to be “reunited” with their owners were taking up the shelter’s limited space, thus increasing the likelihood that cats would be killed. [2, 3]

And she never admits that any cats deemed feral—correctly or not—would almost certainly be killed. Instead, she dances around the issue, playing games with the judge magistrate, who, it’s clear, is unfamiliar with the issue (hence, she never asks what happens to the unsocialized cats brought to AAHS).

In fact, when AAHS backed out of its contract with the county a year later, it was due to “philosophical differences” concerning feral cats, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

Keeping what is essentially a wild animal in a cage for five business days—the amount of time the county requires for any animal it picks up—is cruel and futile, because they rarely are adopted, [AAHS Executive Director Crystal] Evans said. “We would argue, for a truly feral animal, that’s inhumane,” she said. “These are cats that have had basically no human contact, so basically what you’re doing is scaring them to death for seven days and then killing them.” [2]

There’s an irony to all of this.

I’m told by people familiar with the situation that AAHS’s decision to cancel its contract was, in fact, largely the result of Dauphine’s “community service” activities. She had broken the system. And once AAHS canceled its contract, there was no place to take feral cats—a predicament that the Athens-Clarke Commission resolved, in 2010, by voting 9–1 in favor of TNR. [4]

In other words, Athens’ decision to adopt TNR, which Dauphine herself describes as “a resounding defeat for science—and for wildlife conservation,” [5] got a major push from one of its harshest critics.

As it happens, Dauphine was interviewed for the 2009 Banner-Herald story, arguing, “There’s very little or, arguably, no evidence at all that [TNR is] effective. To me, it’s just a lot about people’s discomfort with death and people not wanting to deal with it.”

Was Dauphine suggesting that she has no such qualms?

Dauphine’s Testimony II
Dauphine wrapped up her testimony by explaining her rationale for trapping the defendant’s cat. (She never explains how long she had the cat; nor does she deny having the cat for 16 days.)

…my friends in the Cambridge Apartments were telling me that it was not the first time that cat was lost. Apparently it happened again, so the cat—there is a leash law in Athens and it applies to all domestic animals.

So all domestic animals are supposed to be under their owner’s control at all times. A lot of people don’t pay attention to that with cats. With dogs—obviously if your dog is running around the Animal Control will pick it up, but this is what they can’t do with cats because they don’t have the manpower.

But some—my friends at Cambridge told me that there have been a number of missing lost cat signs, and that particular cat that the website was about was lost again about a month later…

(I’ve spoken with the defense witness, and he tells me that the cat did not go missing again—and that this is just one part of Dauphine’s testimony that “doesn’t compute.”)

JM: Okay. And so you want me to arrest […] on a good behavior bond because you fear for your safety?
ND: I was told by the Humane Society that this person was going to come and physically hurt me, or that they were talking about it. And also on the websites that they were posting on they said that people were following me or they had people following me. They’re kind of vague. They’re not explicit threats but—

JM: But I have to arrest based on your fear of […], not based on what other people might do.
ND: Right, right.

JM: So tell me why you’re fearful of […]
ND: Well, I don’t know her, but she seems to be obsessed with looking up information about me, with contacting people about me. She created an entire website about—that I’m supposedly evil, and all of these crimes that I’ve supposedly committed, when I have absolutely no relationship with her at all. And when I spoke to the police about it, he said that this pattern of behavior makes him worried that she might come and do something to me, so he advised me to get them to leave me alone.

JM: You didn’t have your lawyer contact her, or anybody contact her? Did the police contact her?
ND: I talked to an officer that said he would have his partner talk with her, but I don’t—

JM: Did you get the result of that?
ND: I wasn’t able—I tried to follow up with the police and I wasn’t able to get a communication from them. I did have—I did speak to a lawyer about a defamation case and he—

JM: That’s civil though.
ND: That’s right, yes, so that’s a separate case—so the lawyer contacted them about the website or about the civil case but not—I did talk to several police officers, and they both advised me to file the bond—the good behavior bond—to keep her from continuing to threaten me.

So I don’t know. It’s hard for me to know because I don’t—I don’t scare easily but I find it very disturbing that somebody is working this hard to create a lot of negative propaganda about me.

JM: Has anything happened since May or April?
ND: Since May—since May 18, I’m not aware of anything further.

JM: Anything else you want to tell me?
ND: Not unless you have questions.

JM: [Addressing the defendant]… Do you have any questions you want to ask her?

Defendant: Did the person on the phone with the Athens Area Humane Society identify themselves?
ND: It was […] the Director who called me…

Defendant: The person [who] made threats indirectly to you to—did they identify themselves on the phone?
ND: The Director of the Humane Society called me… The Assistant Director… took the call, and she told me details about this person.

JM: Did she give the person’s name is the question.
ND: She did not give the name.

Defendant: Who took the call again?
ND: […]

JM: Any other questions?
Defendant: No, ma’am.

Two individuals testified on behalf of Dauphine, essentially agreeing with her account of the telephone call she received from AAHS informing her that the defendant (whose name was withheld) was quite angry with Dauphine.

The Defense
A single witness testified on behalf of the defendant.

Defense Witness: On March 31, 2008 our cat went missing. He was gone for a couple of hours. We went outside looking for him and—there’s a forest around our apartment complex owned by some different properties—and in the course of looking for him we noticed some traps that were set for cats—with cat food in them—in the forest.

And, you know, silly us, being naïve and not knowing that there were people that did this out there, we thought it was a humane organization and that probably our cat—he loves wet food—probably got trapped by these people. So we put some notes on the cages saying, “If you have our cat, please call us back,” and we went to dinner.

We came back about an hour later and, lo and behold, the traps were gone and we never got a phone call from these people whatsoever and, in fact, I had noticed when I was looking at the traps that there’s no identifying markers on the traps at all either. So I started calling around the humane organizations around town that are responsible for trapping cats. We talked to all of them. Every one of them said—we called these different organizations and they—all of them say, No, all of our traps have signs on them, have labels on them, and we haven’t been trapping at your apartment complex. So this is the first time that we really start to get suspicious like, Whoa, something’s happening here, you know, What’s going on?

So we go to the Athens Area Humane Society—well, we put up signs everywhere. We go to the Athens Area Humane Society and they tell us, you know, that there’s what they described as a crazy lady who has been trapping cats for about three years here in Athens, including people’s pets. That was their words, not my words, and, you know, we’re shocked at this.

Actually a couple of nights before, we had been looking online—like, who traps cats illegally in town, and we had read that maybe it was dog catchers. So we spent all night bawling, thinking our cat had met this horrible death, but when we find out that it’s this woman that eventually turns them in to the Humane Society, we were encouraged—but we wanted to get our cat back as quickly as possible because at this point it had been over a week.

And finally about, you know, through the course of this time, some people at the Humane Society and friends of theirs were—they wouldn’t tell us who the person was because of confidentiality reasons—but started telling us some information about where that this person had been trapping. So what we started to do was go to the Wal-Mart parking lot which was one of the places and—that they told us—and the Carmike Theater parking lot, and hoped to catch this person in the act and get some pictures of it so we could prove that she was criminally trespassing, and that—and then maybe we could force her to give our cat back.

… we also had a person […] who was helping us do this, who was also staying at some of these—in some of these parking lots—helping to catch the person. Well, lo and behold, 16 days after our cat is gone, Nico turns in our cat to the Athens Area Humane Society—surprise, surprise, it was trapped.

JM: How do you know Nico does that?
DW: Because we were—well the Humane Society takes the names when she turns them in and I also saw her there when—

JM: You saw her there with your cat?
DW: Yes, well […] was staking out the Humane Society and saw her turn in my cat, and when I got there, she was—Nico was there filling out the paperwork for the cats that she had turned in, and I got my cat back immediately and they said, “Yes, he had just been turned in.”

She claimed that—Nico claimed that she caught him five days prior at Tivoli Apartments. So basically there’s one of two explanations here. One: she caught—our cat wandered for 10 days across multiple, and busy, streets—this cat that hardly ever goes outside—and happened to get caught by the person that we were looking for.

Or, the person knew we were onto them, knew they were trespassing—we have signed statements from both the YWCA and the Cambridge Apartments where we found the traps that she—they have never allowed someone to trap there—knew that they were trespassing, and so freaked out, and kept the cat and didn’t call us. It just, to me, makes sense that she had our cat for 16 days. Either way, she caught our cat.

…We’ve never made any violent, physical threats to her. I contacted the police and asked them if there was enough of a case to get her on trespassing, et cetera, and they said there’s probably not enough for a criminal case but you have a pretty strong civil case.

They said also one of the officers offered to go over to her house and offer her a warning on criminal trespass, which he told me he did, and he said that Nico said, “I’m sorry, and I promise I won’t be trespassing,” or whatever.

JM: Do you know anything about [the blog]?
DW: Yes, we helped form the blog.  The blog is just an account of everything that I have told you here today.

JM: That’s not very nice. Why would y’all do something like that?
DW: Because we think there’s a public right to know that this person—we learned from the Humane Society this person has been trapping people’s pets for three years, many of which get euthanized because she dumps so many off at the Humane Society.

JM: So you think that’s okay to—
DW: I think the public has a right to know that she’s been doing this.

JM: So you think that that’s okay to say that she’s an evil person by putting this on here?
DW: Well, the evil is hyperbole, but everything else on there is our story, is exactly what happened.

JM: You think it’s okay to do this?
DW: Yeah, I think it’s public right to know. I think it’s called freedom of speech, and this is not a libel case.

JM: It’s almost like everybody gets to decide what their own rights are. She gets to decide she has the right to decide that she’s an evil person, and y’all just publicly display the things that y’all just—
DW: Well, this is not a libel case.

JM: Don’t talk when I talk.
DW: I’m sorry.

JM: Okay, because I’m mad at both sides. This is kind of ridiculous—
DW: It is.

JM: —to waste my time with her picking up cats, and y’all saying that she took your cat.  It’s kind of crazy, and I just don’t understand why people think they have the right to just make up their own rules. You get the right to say she’s evil; she gets the right to take cats. It’s kind of crazy to me.
DW: Well yeah, I mean, the evil thing may be—admittedly—is a little exaggerated, but if you read the rest of the blog everything else is exactly what I’ve just said, and I do think that, like you said, there is a reason why what she’s doing would make people mad. I mean, our cat was gone for 16 days.

We cried about it. When we got him back, by the way, he had five days worth of fecal matter impacted in his intestines. We have the veterinary bill. We had to take him to the vet to have the fecal matter removed from his intestines. It was one of the most horrific experiences of my life, where I had to dig poop out of my cat because he had been trapped in a cage for 16 days because of this woman and now we’re the ones on trial?

I mean we’ve contacted lawyers, we contacted the police, we have done this legally and professionally at every step of the way, and now suddenly we’re the ones on trial?  This is ridiculous. I can’t—

JM: So did […] call the Humane Society and threaten Ms. Dauphine? Do you know?
DW: I have no idea—no, I don’t think so.

JM: That’s why you’re here, because the Humane Society said someone threatened her.
DW: When we talked to the Humane Society we didn’t know her name at all.  So this is—

JM: So how did you find out her name?  From […]?
DW: No, we found out her name when she turned in our cat.

JM: Okay. So you don’t know who threatened her?
DW: No, and we didn’t know her name, so if […] did make a threat before when we talked to the Humane Society people, she was threatening a generic person who trapped our cat, not Nico specifically.

JM: Well somehow somebody found where Ms. Nico lived based on her address from somebody […] Do you know anything about that?
DW: No, no, no, no. That’s not true at all. We found out how she lived because I followed her home the day she turned in my cat.

JM: You followed her home? You think that’s okay.
DW: I think when we’re trying to gather evidence for a criminal case about her trespassing.

JM: That’s what the police are for.
DW: The police said we—actually the police officer encouraged me to—he said trespassing, you have to catch them in the act, and he encouraged me to follow her and to try to catch them in the act of doing this and trespassing.

After a short break, the judge magistrate returned with her decision.

JM: …I was leaning toward arresting both of you, because I think there is a reason why the law allows police officers to do certain things that the public is prohibited from doing. Ms. Dauphine, I think your cause is admirable, but I also think it’s dangerous. I don’t think you have the right to go onto other people’s property to trap animals because there is no public service to do that.

Now the [defense] witness […] testified to three agencies that he knew that did what you do on your own, and that they seem to have some protocol for doing that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I really—to be honest with you—don’t really care, but what I do know is that if you try to do something on your own that involves other people’s property you get yourself in trouble for doing that, either civilly because you took their animal without consent or criminally because you trespassed on somebody else’s property in order to do what you think is your mission to do.

So I’m not saying that it’s not a worthy cause, and that it shouldn’t be done—because I don’t care that much for stray animals either—but I think you’ve put yourself in a very difficult position by doing something like that, so I’m not going to arrest you for it, but I just think you need to think about what you’re doing and how you potentially get yourself in trouble for doing it.

On the other hand [Defendant], you’re not innocent in all this either. Just because someone does something that you think is wrong, in terms of taking your animal, you don’t have the right to be a vigilante any more than she does.

You don’t have the right to have […] stalk her, or follow her to find out where she lives, or who she is. You don’t have the right to put evil things on the Internet just because you feel like she does things wrong.

There are proper procedures for that. You could have brought her in this proceeding, just like she brought you, to say to me, Stop her from doing this; I think that’s wrong—she’s trespassing on people’s property, she’s taking animals that doesn’t belong to her.

I can stop her. The law doesn’t give you the right to take matters into your own hands and stop her from doing something that she thinks is wrong. So my policy has always been if you both are wrong, and I find legally that you both did what was wrong in the eyes of the law, that I either arrest both of you or I arrest neither one of you.

And I don’t think justice will be served by arresting both of you, so I’m not going to arrest either one of you. But I’m going to warn you as well that this is not the proper way to handle something as a citizen… to make evil comments about people on the Internet just because they did something you don’t like.

There is an application for arrest warrant procedure—you fill out the application, you bring her here, and let me fuss at her or let me arrest her, because you don’t take matters into your own hands… I don’t think that’s the proper way to handle it.

If the police told you that […] should follow her to find out where she lives, you send that police officer to me and I’ll chastise him, because that’s not the proper way to handle proceedings—to follow her to find out where she lives so that you can do whatever you think you ought to be able to do.

So, still, I’m mad at both of you all but I’m going send you on your way…

Civic Duty
Three months after her court appearance—with the TNR debate heating up in Athens—Dauphine weighed in publicly, writing a letter to the editor of Flagpole, Athens’ alternative weekly newspaper.

In it, she touches on all the usual talking points (e.g., cats are non-native, exaggerated predation rates, etc.), and portrays her trapping as a civic duty—done in the best interest not only of the community, but also of the cats. Dauphine also suggests—contrary to what she admitted in court—that her trapping efforts were limited to her own property.

“After reflecting on my responsibilities as a citizen and learning the relevant laws, I began trapping what turned out to be dozens of cats on my property. The vast majority were feral and stray and some of them were suffering from infectious diseases…

I’m all for enjoyment and finding a sense of purpose, but I think we can agree that we all need to do that without infringing on everyone else’s rights and causing mass destruction. If helping feral cats is your thing, that’s great—go out feed them and care for them to your heart’s content in your own house or an enclosure on your own property, where they will be safe from harm and will also not harm other animals or people…

It’s a free country, as the saying goes, but we are also a nation of laws. I do not have the freedom to release dogs, horses, goats, cattle, snakes, tigers or bears on my neighbors’ property. Likewise, I don’t want other people releasing animals, including cats, feral or otherwise, on mine. Cats are beautiful animals that make wonderful pets, but they were domesticated thousands of years ago—they’re not wild, they don’t belong outside roaming and killing native wildlife, and your cats definitely don’t belong on my property…” [6]

In what can only be described as gross hypocrisy, Dauphine closes her letter by arguing that “TNR is not respectful of law, private property, or citizens’ rights.” [6] Had she been more respectful of the law, private property, and citizens’ rights, Dauphine wouldn’t have found herself in court three months earlier.

Or—if the Washington Humane Society investigators are right—once again, three years later.

Literature Cited
1. Johnson, J. (2008, February 2). Man who abandoned cats to serve 20 days. Athens Banner-Herald (GA),

2. Aued, B. (2009, March 28). Feral feline problem now life-or-death issue. Athens Banner-Herald, from

3. Aued, B. (2009, Auguest 3). Athens Area Humane Society moves to new digs in Watkinsville. Athens Banner-Herald, from

4. Aued, B. (2010, March 3). TNR approved in 9-1 vote. Athens Banner-Herald, from

5. Dauphine, N. and Cooper, R.J., “Pick One: Outdoor Cats or Conservation.” The Wildlife Professional. 2011. 5(1): p. 50–56.

6. Dauphine, N. (2008, October 15). Letter to the Editor. Flagpole, from

Fantasy Islands

Thirty-three: that’s how many species of birds have been driven to extinction by feral cats. At least.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve stumbled across references to this figure over the past couple years. Not once, however, have I seen more than one species (usually the Stephens Island Wren, its story having been twisted into mythology over the years) mentioned as an example.

Which species? From where? Under what circumstances?

I seemed to be the only one interested in these questions. Indeed—as is often the case with such “facts”—the impact of the 33 extinctions reference increases the further it’s separated from its original context.

Recent Sightings
The most recent reference comes from Kiera Butler’s article in the July/August issue of Mother Jones. Domestic cats, Butler writes, are “responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide.” [1]

The authors of Feral Cats and Their Management, published last year by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, qualified the role of cats somewhat: “While loss of habitat is the primary cause of species extinctions, cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds around the world.” [2]

Nico Dauphine mentioned the 33 extinctions in her now-infamous “Apocalypse Meow” presentation, and in her 2009 Partners In Flight paper, co-written with Robert Cooper: “Historically, cats have been specifically implicated in at least 33 bird extinctions, making them one of the most important causes of bird extinctions worldwide (Nogales et al. 2004).” [3]

In “A Review of Feral Cat Eradication on Islands,” Nogales et al. explain: “Feral cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 bird species. Insular endemic landbirds are most frequently driven to extinction.” [4, emphasis mine]

So we’re talking about islands? That’s no small distinction, as Fitzgerald and Turner make clear in their contribution to The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour:

“Cats have become established within the last century or two on many oceanic islands that, by the nature of their origin, had very few if any mammals but possessed avian faunas that had evolved without mammalian predators. In these circumstances, cats have had severe effects, that were often combined with the effects of other introduced mammals and habitat modification.” [5]

In Search Of 33 Extinctions
As their source, Nogales et al. cite a 1994 book by Christopher Lever, Naturalized animals: The ecology of successfully introduced species, which in turn points us to a 1977 text:

“According to Jackson (1977), naturalized predators have collectively been responsible for the extermination throughout the world of no fewer than 61 avian taxa, the principal culprits being feral domestic Cats which have caused 33 extinctions, rats 14, and the Small Indian Mongoose nine. These are in addition to the numerous occasions of local extinctions.” [6]

Now we’re getting somewhere. Jackson provides a bar chart illustrating the “Relative importance of causes of avian extinctions since 1600; data are summarized from Ziswiler (1967).” [7]

Now, a truly thorough search wouldn’t end with Ziswiler’s work—as he cites four additional sources. Nevertheless, Ziswiler provides what I was looking for: the various species that were driven to extinction, their location, and an approximate date.

And—just as important—the various other factors that acted in combination with predation by cats (which Ziswiler lists in what appears to be hierarchical order, though it’s not entirely clear).

That’s right: not only are these extinctions limited to island habitats, they typically involve two or three contributing factors. In fact, of the 33 extinctions tabulated by Ziswiler, only eight are attributed to cats exclusively (and it turns out some of those have been “overturned” in the 44 years since Ziswiler first published his list, as we’ll see shortly).

All of which is pretty difficult to reconcile with, say, Butler’s straightforward indictment: cats are “responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide.” [1]

Cats and Avian Extinctions
Of the eight extinctions Ziswiler attributes to cats alone, just two have stood the test of time: the Stephens Island Wren and the Macquarie Island kakariki (red-crowned parakeet), as described below.

  • Stephens Island Wren (Xenicus lyalli; Traversia lyalli)
    Location: Stephens Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Traversia lyalli is only known from recent times from Stephen’s Island, New Zealand, although it is common in fossil deposits from both of the main islands. It is not thought to have existed beyond 1894… Construction of a lighthouse on Stephens Island in 1894 led to the clearance of most of the island’s forest, with predation by the lighthouse keeper’s cat delivering the species’ coup-de-grace.” (BirdLife International)

    In fact, the story of the “lighthouse keeper’s cat” is only partly accurate.

    Drawing upon “archival and museum records,” Galbreath and Brown found that, contrary to popular accounts, it was not a single cat, but “a small population of cats… preying on the birds and other life of the island.” [8]

    “They had a considerable impact on the land birds of the island: the flightless Traversia lyalli was only the first to disappear. Judging by the numbers of specimens obtained in 1894 and subsequent years, the species was reduced considerably in that first year and eliminated entirely within perhaps a few more years. Extermination was rapid, although probably not as rapid as usually stated, nor by a single cat. But although the extinction of the Stephens Island wren may not have been quite as dramatic as it has usually been portrayed, it was tragic enough. Traversia lyalli was only one of the casualties of human exploitation of Stephens Island, which could, with just a little more care, have remained a safe haven for this and other species now entirely extinct.” [8]

  • Macquarie Island kakariki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae erythrotis)
    Location: Macquarie Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “For 70 years following the discovery of Macquarie Island in 1810 the endemic parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae erythrotis remained plentiful, despite the introduction of cats (Felis catus) and other predators. The crucial factor in the bird’s rapid disappearance between 1881 and 1890 appears to have been the successful liberation of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in 1879. This led to great increases of feral cats and introduced wekas (Gallirallus australis) and presumably to greatly intensified predation on parakeets.” [9]

    Macquarie Island provides an interesting footnote: A 15-year cat eradication effort on the island, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site, concluded in 2000 with “unintended consequences [that] have been dire.” In the absence of cats, the population of rabbits and rodents has skyrocketed, prompting the Australian government to commit AU$24 million to further eradication efforts. [10]

Other Factors
Three of the other six cat-caused extinctions described by Ziswiler actually involve a host of factors, as revealed by 44 years of additional research

  • Guadalupe storm petrel (Oceanodroma macrodactyla)
    Location: Guadalupe
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “The main cause of its demise is thought to be heavy predation by feral cats, compounded by goats destroying and degrading nesting habitat.” However, “it cannot yet be presumed to be Extinct because there have been no thorough surveys of this difficult-to-detect species in the appropriate season since 1906, and relatively recent reports of unidentified storm-petrels calling at night, plus the persistence of Leach’s Storm-petrel breeding on the island provide some hope that it may survive. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).” (BirdLife International)
  • Choiseul crested pigeon (Microgoura meeki)
    Location: Choiseul Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Its extinction was presumably caused by predation by feral dogs and cats, as suitable habitat survives on the island… It has not been recorded since 1904 despite searching and interviews with villagers.” (BirdLife International)
  • Bonin crested pigeon (Comumba versicolor)
    Location: Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Its extinction presumably resulted from clearance of the islands’ subtropical evergreen forest, and from predation by introduced cats and rats… It was last recorded in 1889.” (BirdLife International)

Natural Disaster
The case of the St. Christopher Bullfinch is intriguing in that cats may not have been involved at all.

  • St. Christopher Bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis grandis)
    Location: St. Christopher Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: In 1979, Herbert Raffaele offered an explanation that makes no mention of cats whatsoever, picking up the story where James Greenway [11], one of the sources cited by Ziswiler, left off:

    “The only explanation yet put forward for the extinction of L. p. grandis is that of Bond (1936, 1956), who suggested the bird’s demise resulted from heavy predation by Green Monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) which were introduced on St. Kitts. Greenway (1958) noted that this hypothesis appears weak because the related Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (L. noctis) has survived disturbance by the same monkeys on Barbados (indeed, L. noctis thrives on St. Kitts itself); he further suggested that “Other unknown factors may have been involved.” Greenway, however, did not propose an alternative hypothesis. I shall examine the often-quoted monkey hypothesis and suggest an alternative explanation.” [12]

    Readers interested in the details of the “often-quoted monkey hypothesis” will want to download the PDF. The short answer is: two hurricanes during August 1899 were “probably enough to eliminate L. p. grandis.” [12]

Extinction Is (Not) Forever
Perhaps the most surprising finding, though, is that two of the species Ziswiler claims were driven to extinction by feral cats—the Aukland Islands rail and the Eyrean grass-wren—turn out not to be extinct at all.

  • Aukland Islands rail (Rallus muelleri; Lewinia muelleri)
    Location: Aukland Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “It was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered on Adams Island (100 km2) in 1966 and Disappointment Island (4 km2) in 1993… Population numbers are apparently stable.  Although both rail-inhabited islands are predator-free, Auckland Island (a few hundred metres from Adams) supports feral cats, mice and pigs, and therefore the introduction of these animals is a possible threat.” (BirdLife International)
  • Eyrean grass-wren (Amytornis goyderi)
    Location: Australia
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion… the population trend criterion… [or] the population size criterion… For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.” (BirdLife International)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around
The remaining 25 extinctions, while not as dramatic as some of those already mentioned, illustrate very well complexities generally lost to those who blindly cite the 33 extinctions (reason enough, they seem to argue, to outlaw the feeding of feral cats and TNR programs everywhere).

  • Iwo Jima rail (Poliolimnas cinereus brevipes)
    Location: Iwo Jima
    Cause (Ziswiler): rats and feral cats
    What we know now: “Due to an increasing human population on Naka from 1910 onwards, its habitat degraded, and natural water sources became scarce. Therefore, the birds had to depend on water tanks near houses in the dry season, where they were easily caught by feral or domestic cats. The last birds collected for science were in 1911 (the 12 birds of the type-series of brevipes), and the last bird seen was in 1920–1925 (Greenway 1967).” (Zoological Museum Amsterdam)

  • Bonin night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus crassirostris)
    Location: Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): “habitat altered through civilization or monocultures” and feral cats
    What we know now: “The most likely reason for its extinction is predation by rats and feral cats. However, collectors fascinated by its plumes may also have been responsible; birds shot for use in millinery (a burgeoning business in contemporary Japan) would not have ended up in scientific collections… The Bonin Night Heron became extinct only 50 years after its description. The last specimen was taken in 1889 on Nakōdo-jima.” (Wikipedia)
  • Red-billed rail (Rallus pacificus)
    Location: Tahiti
    Cause (Ziswiler): rats and feral cats
    What we know now: “It was flightless, and its extinction was presumably caused by introduced cats and rats… there were reports from Tahiti until 1844, and from the nearby Mehetia until the 1930s.(BirdLife International)
  • Chatham Island banded rail (Rallus dieffenbachii)
    Location: Chatham Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Its extinction was presumably due to predation by introduced rats, cats and dogs, and habitat loss from fire… The species was already scarce when the type was collected in 1840, and was extinct by 1872.” (BirdLife International)
  • Samoa wood rail (Pareudiastes pacificus; Gallinula pacifica)
    Location: Samoa
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Cats, rats, pigs and dogs have no doubt contributed to its disappearance, and hunting may also have been a factor as it was formerly a favoured food of the human population… it was last recorded in 1873. In 1984 there were two possible sightings in upland forest west of Mt Elietoga, and in October 2003 a possible sighting of two individuals was made at 990 m on Mount Sili Sili. A recent survey of the island yielded no record of the species.” (BirdLife International)
  • Jamaica Pauraque (Siphonornis americanus americanus; Siphonorhis americana)
    Location: Jamaica
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and “mongoose forms”
    What we know now: “This species has not been recorded since 1860, and it may have been driven to extinction by introduced mongooses and rats, whose effect may have been exacerbated by habitat destruction. However, it cannot yet be presumed to be Extinct because there have been recent unconfirmed reports, and surveys may possibly have overlooked this nocturnal species. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).” (BirdLife International)

    Note: there is no mention of cats at all.

  • Lord Howe grey-headed blackbird (Turdus poliocephalus vinitinctus)
    Location: Lord Howe Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and feral pigs
    What we know now: “It was quite common in 1906 but its population began to diminish in 1913 due to disturbance by man, cats, dogs, goats and feral pigs. When the SS Makambo was shipwrecked on Lord Howe in June 1918 rats escaped from the vessel and overran the island. With other endemic bird species this ground-nesting bird became extinct within six years.” (Wikipedia)
  • Raiatea thrush (Turdus ulietensis)
    Location: Society Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Raiatea was visited in 1850 by explorer and natural history collector Andrew Garrett, who failed to record the species. Evidently it became extinct between 1774 and 1850, almost certainly as a consequence of the inadvertent introduction of Black or Brown Rats to the island.” (Wikipedia)

    Again, no mention of cats.

  • Kittlitz’s thrush (Zoothera terrestris)
    Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Whalers started to use the island in the 1830s and it was probably driven to extinction by introduced rats and cats shortly after.” (BirdLife International)
  • Hawaiian honeycreepers (16 forms)
    Location: Hawaii
    Cause (Ziswiler): “habitat altered through destruction of the forest,” “habitat altered through civilization or monocultures,” and feral cats
    What we know now: “Some 20 species of Hawaiian honeycreeper have become extinct in the recent past, and many more in earlier times, between the arrival of arrival of the Polynesians who introduced the first rats, chickens, pigs, dogs, and hunted and converted habitat for agriculture.” (Wikipedia)

    Also: “The birds face a host of hungry new arrivals such as rats, cats, and pigs, as well as the age-old problem of habitat destruction. But their main enemy was the arrival of avian malaria in the 1940s.” (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

•     •     •

So, how many avian extinctions have cats caused? I don’t know.

Then again, neither do Butler, the authors of the UNL paper, Dauphine, or any of the others who suggest they do—and then use that “knowledge” to fuel the witch-hunt against free-roaming cats.

It’s funny how the same people who make so much noise about the U.S. population of pet cats tripling over the past 40 years (without acknowledging the increasing likelihood that these cats are indoor-only, of course) have demonstrated no interest at all in updating their island extinctions factoid.

Then again, they only rarely acknowledge the fact that the extinctions occurred on islands, or the fact that feral cats were just one of many contributing factors. In those instances where cats were involved at all—and where birds were actually driven to extinction.

Considering what these people are proposing—the wholesale killing of cats by the tens of millions—is it really too much to ask that they do a little more fact-checking and a little less Kool-Aid drinking?

Literature Cited
1. Butler, K., “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Mother Jones. 2011. July/August. p. 72–73.

2. Hildreth, A.M., Vantassel, S.M., and Hygnstrom, S.E., Feral Cats and Their Managment. 2010, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: Lincoln, NE.

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