I never dreamed I’d be able to work my cats Boo and Bandit into a blog about the nature of the Sonoran Desert. Then I read Stephen DeStefano’s book on urban wildlife Coyote at the Kitchen Door, where he states, “Cats may be the most efficient predators on the planet, and the domestic cat has filled a niche in the human environment so perfectly that no other animal even comes close.”
It seems ludicrous to imagine my plump kitties could be considered urban predators, masters of stealth, skill and intelligence. Yet Felis catus counts as the most abundant carnivore in North America. Figures from National Wildlife Federation indicate there are around 73 million pet cats in the U.S. Approximately 40 million of these roam unsupervised. Add in the feral population and as many as 100 million domestic cats prowl the outdoors.
And the victims? Al Manville a wildlife biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife says cats could be killing 100 million song birds per year. Others estimate up to five times that many. Domestic cats also kill lizards and native rodents such as voles and chipmunks. Native species seem to fall prey to feline hunters more often than introduced species such as Norway rats.
Since learning this I’ve been looking at my orange tabby Boo in a new way. I’ve noticed that when he’s not sleeping or bugging me for dinner, he’s at a window, staring out impassively, with only the steady twitch of his tail to reveal his thoughts.
I think back to a recent incident when I opened the patio door and Boo practically knocked me down to rush outside. This was pretty shocking, as Boo is a rescue cat and has never indicated the slightest interest in going back “out there”.
But he’d spied a lizard through the window and in an instant he streaked past me and had it cornered under the dense shrubbery outside the door. Boo’s never moved so fast and with such intent, not even at dinner time.
Outdoor cats have a severely shortened life span, living an average of just five years. I’ve loved and spoiled indoor cats that lived to be 20. The National Wildlife Federation suggests setting up a wildlife viewing area for your cat, on the inside of your home.
Boo and Bandit have plenty of windows, and also enjoy a short daily game of String. That seems to satisfy their prey instincts and keeps them safe from harm.