Letter to the Editor: In defense of New Zealand’s birds


In a recent opinion piece, John Forsee reviewed a controversial cat removal proposal for protection of birds in New Zealand (Feb 8). His arguments to ‘Save the Cats’ are seriously flawed. Forsee discounts the threat of feral cats because ‘birds are made to flee predators.’

Unfortunately, many birds in New Zealand have adapted to island life by becoming flightless and are highly vulnerable to new predators. Flightless species include the Kiwi — a cultural icon for New Zealanders, the Auckland Teal — a small flightless duck, Weka and Takahe — large flightless rails, and the Kakapo — a giant flightless parrot.

Forsee suggests that ‘most of the time the bird gets away [from the cat].’ Not true. A recent KittyCam study at the University of Georgia attached small cameras to suburban housecats and found that they kill an alarming number of native animals, including birds but also reptiles and small mammals. Forsee notes that ‘if birds have survived … without extinction, they will continue to do so.’ Sadly, the ongoing record of bird extinctions indicates otherwise.

Since 1840, at least 16 species of birds have become extinct in New Zealand, and many native bird species in New Zealand persist only on small offshore islands that remain cat and rat free. For example, the Black Robin was reduced to a world population of only five individuals but was then successfully recovered with intensive restoration efforts. Forsee concludes that ‘killing [cats] off in New Zealand would go against nature.’ In the case of invasive species, inaction can lead to staggering ecological and economic costs.

Here in Kansas, zebra mussels and Asian carp are negatively impacting native fishes, sericea lespedeza is reducing pasture quality, and the newly arrived emerald ash borer is now killing our native ash trees. What is the best option for cats? The Cats Indoors campaign of the American Bird Conservancy suggests that most impacts on native wildlife can simply be avoided by keeping pets indoors. Forsee highlights important issues, but the best place for his editorial is the bottom of a litter box.

Brett K. Sandercock
professor of wildlife biology