State of the UK’s Birds 2012

“The UK has lost more than 44 million breeding birds in less than half a century,” reports a recent article in The Guardian, “including an average of 50 house sparrows every hour.”

“Scientists estimate the number of nesting birds has plummeted from 210 million in 1966 to 166 million today. The shocking statistics are contained in the State of the UK’s Birds 2012 report (PDF), published on Monday, and charting the ups and downs of the nation’s bird populations.” [1]

The story was brought to my attention by two Vox Felina readers (thank you!), both of whom were quick to point out that there’s no mention of cats at all. The same goes for the report itself. Which isn’t entirely surprising, actually. As some of the online comments point out, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds suggests that predation by cats is largely compensatory, not additive:

“Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide… It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.” [2]

It’s important to note, also, that outdoor cats are the norm in the UK, unlike here in the U.S. where about two-thirds of pet cats are indoor-only. [3–5] (I read somewhere that the figure in the UK is closer to 10 percent, but haven’t seen any credible numbers for recent years. If you know of any, please send me an e-mail.)

Unlike similar stories in U.S. papers, there are very few comments suggesting that cats play a role—with a couple of notable exceptions, who (not surprisingly) don’t use their real/full names, and whose “research” seems to begin and end with Google. According to one of them, “the RSPB seems not to want to upset some of its members who keep cats.”

Could be.

Or perhaps the RSPB is genuinely interested in addressing the critical issues—the ones for which rigorous scientific evidence exists—in their conservation efforts.

Literature Cited

1. Davies, C. (2012, November 18). UK breeding bird population shrinks by more than 44 million since 1966. The Guardian,

2. RSPB (2011) Are cats causing bird declines? Accessed October 26, 2011.

3. Clancy, E.A., Moore, A.S., and Bertone, E.R., “Evaluation of cat and owner characteristics and their relationships to outdoor access of owned cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2003. 222(11): p. 1541-1545.

4. Lord, L.K., “Attitudes toward and perceptions of free-roaming cats among individuals living in Ohio.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2008. 232(8): p. 1159–1167.

5. APPA, 2009–2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. 2009, American Pet Products Association: Greenwich, CT.