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4 Reasons Why It’s a Bad Argument to say Cats Kill More Birds than Wind Turbines

Tip o’ the hat to Tehachapi Communities for Responsible Energy Development

Chris Clarke — KCET — 2013

A recent Nature article offered up some shocking statistics about the number of wild animals likely killed by outdoor domestic cats each year, and it’s gotten a lot of buzz. According to theresearch, outdoor cats — most of them ferals — kill as many as 20 billion wild animals in the U.S. each year, including at least 1.4 billion birds. Some people, prominent environmentalists among them, are citing these truly shocking numbers to argue that the threat wind turbines pose to birds and bats is numerically far smaller, and thus not a big deal.

But that’s a really bad argument, fatally flawed both logically and ecologically. Here are four reasons why.

Reason 1: Not all birds are the same.

There are more than 10,000 species of birds known on the planet. That’s about twice as many species than there are of mammals, and more than there are of either reptiles or amphibians.

Those more than 10,000 species of birds vary widely in their size, their ecological function, and their rarity. A California condor and a house sparrow may both be birds, but they share almost nothing in their lifestyle, their ecological function, or their conservation status.

Outdoor cats kill a very wide variety of birds, but there are a few things the birds cats commonly kill have in common: They tend to be significantly smaller than cats. They tend to spend time on the ground, or near the ground, where cats can get at them. And they tend to spend time in places that aren’t very far from human settlement, which is where most of the cats are. Some birds killed by outdoor cats are hardly in danger of extinction: some, like starlings, are even invasive exotics. Others, like San Francisco’s population of California quail, may well be in danger of extinction. Cat predation is indeed a huge problem for birds and other animals, and I’ve written about it here at KCET.

By contrast, wind turbines aren’t limited to the cities, suburbs, or populated rural areas. Unlike cats, turbines can injure birds that are soaring hundreds of feet off the ground. And with blades weighing several tons each whose tips travel at speeds upwards of 100 miles per hour, wind turbines can inflict injury on birds far out of cats’ weight class.

Here’s a reminder of the relative size of one species commonly injured by wind turbines and a domestic cat:

recently released study of avian fatalities at the Altamont Pass wind area lists 74 identified species killed by Altamont Pass turbines between 2005 and 2010. 40 of these species are also victims of cat predation, some of them frequent victims. These species include larks, sparrows, swallows, warblers, jays, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, and similar small birds.

But some of the species found dead at Altamont Pass are well out of the range of even the most overconfident cat, including common ravens, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, and great horned owls — which last are likelier to eat cats than the other way around.

And of these Altamont-killed birds who are unlikely victims of cats due either to being larger than cats or too aggressive to be easy prey, the majority are top predators, whose removal has entirely different consequences for an ecosystem than the removal of small seed- and insect-eating birds through cat predation.

In fact, though the environmental effect of cat predation is serious indeed, wind turbine mortalities are more weighted toward species of conservation concern.  Read full article, here…..

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