Hawaii is considered the endangered species capital of the world. Because of its isolation, Hawaii’s unique birds evolved without predators such as domestic cats, rats, and mongooses. As a result, Hawaii’s native birds are extremely vulnerable to predation, especially now that their natural habitat has been greatly reduced by farming and human development.
Although domestic cats are not the only threat to Hawaii’s rare birds, they are an important factor, even in higher elevations far from human development. Cats can breed year-round in Hawaii, with 3 litters per year of 4 - 6 kittens per litter. Rabies does not occur in Hawaii, and there are no wild predators to help keep the free-roaming cat population in check.
Endangered Birds Threatened by Cats
It is not natural for domestic cats to kill Hawaii’s native and unique birds. Hawaii’s birds did not evolve with cats and have few defenses against them. The following are a few examples of rare birds that are killed by domestic cats:
The federally endangered Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, is threatened by feral cats in their protected, but limited habitat of mamane and mamane-naio forest on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, from 6,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. Wildlife biologists have been monitoring the Palila population for years. Since 1998, 8 to 11 percent of monitored Palila nests were depredated annually by cats. This level of cat predation inhibits efforts to restore the Palila population.
The 'Alala, or Hawaiian Crow, is the world's most endangered crow. Endemic to the Big Island, this crow was once abundant in lower and middle elevation dry forests on the western and southern sides of the island. The 'Alala has suffered from loss and degradation of habitat, predation by cats, rats and mongooses, and avian malaria and pox carried by introduced mosquitoes. In addition, captive released birds have contracted toxoplasmosis, a disease common to domestic cats and rats. In order to save the species, 'Alala are being bred in captivity.
The endangered Hawaiian Petrel was once abundant on all main Hawaiian Islands except Ni'ihau. Today, the world's largest known breeding colony is found at Haleakala' Crater on Maui. The primary threat to this breeding colony is predation by introduced rats, mongooses and feral cats. Since 1981, an ongoing and aggressive predator control program has halted most losses, and this important colony appears stable.
Nene or Hawaiian Goose used to live on all the main Hawaiian Islands, but nearly became extinct in the 1950s due to over-hunting. Today, the Big Island is the only place where they are found naturally in the wild, and thanks to propagation efforts, they have been re-introduced on Maui, Moloka'i, and Kaua'i. Nene are extremely vulnerable to introduced predators such as rats, dogs, cats, mongooses and pigs.
Cats even impact populations of common seabirds, such as Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Wildlife biologists compared the nesting success of shearwater colonies, where stray cats were fed daily by the public, with a shearwater nesting colony where cats were absent. Many more burrows produced chicks at the colony where cats were absent, and all of the adult shearwaters at the colony closest to the cats were killed. Populations of long-lived seabirds such as shearwaters, which produce only one egg per year and often do not breed until they are over five years old, are sensitive to the loss of breeding adults.
Dangers to Outdoor Cats
Many people don't realize the daily hazards that outdoor cats face. The life expectancy of a free-roaming cat is less than 5 years, while indoor-only cats can live 12 - 20 years. Outdoor cats are in constant danger from:
The Truth About Cats and Birds
Even well-fed cats kill birds. Cats are predators, and the urge to hunt and eat are controlled by different parts of a cat's brain.
Cat-caught birds rarely survive. Even if the bird survives an initial encounter with a cat, infection from a cat's teeth or claws, or internal injury usually result in death.
Tips to Keep Your Cat Happy Indoors
Cat owners can help Hawaii's birds and cats by keeping their cats indoors. It is easy to keep kittens indoors from the start. With patience and time, most outdoor cats can become content indoor pets.
The following tips will help:
Tips for Responsible Cat Ownership
Remember, indoor cats are safe cats.
Help Hawaii's unique birds. Please keep your cat indoors.
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