American Bird Conservancy opinion piece on trap-neuter-release cat colonies

The following editorial by Dr. Travis Longcore was published in the American Bird Conservancy’s “Bird Calls” newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 in October 2012.  I’ve shared Dr. Longcore’s article here because I agree with his assessment that “trap-neuter-release” programs for feral cats cause more problems than they solve.  I’ve also posted the entire newsletter here: bc12oct


No-Kill Movement Means Death for Birds

Guest editorial by Travis Longcore, Ph.D.

In recent years it has become seemingly obligatory for local politicians to commit to taking a “no-kill” approach to animal control in their jurisdictions. That news might not raise the concerns of the typical bird conservationist, who may think that this simply means that unfortunate stray animals would be held in shelters long enough to find homes. But the no-kill movement is not innocuous – its mission is to stop euthanasia of any healthy cat or dog, no matter whether that animal has no prospects for a home, is feral, or is dangerously aggressive.

A fundamental element of a no-kill approach is to implement a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program for unowned cats, which stops stray and feral cats from being taken to shelters and instead promotes the unrestricted feeding and maintenance of cat colonies outdoors by “caregivers.” Bird conservationists therefore need to start paying attention to animal sheltering legislation or risk not being able to remove stray and feral cats from places where they threaten birds, whether they be back yards or nature reserves.

This no-kill approach for stray and feral cats results in increasing numbers of free-ranging cats, maintained in groups concentrated around feeding stations. Some of these cats are even redeemed from shelters by so-called rescuers and intentionally placed outside into new or existing colonies. TNR policies are generally coupled with an abandonment by local jurisdictions of traditional animal control functions for stray and feral cats.

Once a TNR program is in place, rules are changed so that it becomes illegal or extremely difficult to trap and take a feral cat to an animal shelter. Cats that have been neutered and are being fed outdoors are marked by cutting off the tip of one ear, and shelters receiving such cats will return them to the person feeding them or to any “rescue” group. In jurisdictions implementing TNR, it can become a crime to interfere with cat feeders, even if the cats number in the dozens and become a nuisance in parks, alleys, and residential neighborhoods. This situation can occur almost overnight, because most states do not require that local jurisdictions control unowned cats, only unowned dogs.

The no-kill movement represents a radical agenda that prioritizes unowned cats and the rights of cat feeders over the welfare of birds and other wildlife and the rights of people who enjoy and care about them. When confronted with the staggering number of individual mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds killed by free-roaming cats, the response by no-kill advocates is often that this does not matter, unless wildlife populations as a whole are affected. To quote one such advocate from a social networking site: “Even if it were true that cats kill 500 million birds a year, that figure still does not tell me anything. I also need to know how many birds in total die annually, and how many get born.” Scientists have documented that high predation levels can affect wildlife populations, but the more troubling issue is that feral cat advocates appear unable to feel compassion for the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of millions of individual birds and other animals, even while they insist that euthanasia of a single feral cat is immoral and reprehensible.

Bird conservationists must be honest about the options. There are many methods of promoting responsible pet ownership to reduce the number of stray animals, including roaming ordinances, low-cost and mandatory spay/neuter practices, per-household pet limits, and cat licensing laws. Effective control of free-roaming cats requires aggressive efforts that almost always will include euthanasia. And like any nuisance animal control program, the efforts must be sustained. Sanctuaries are not economically viable, cannot possibly address the magnitude of the problem, and all too often end up as hoarding situations. Given the harm done by feral cats directly to wildlife, and the risks they pose to both human and wildlife health, permanent removal must remain as an option for any strategy to protect the places birds live and breed.

Bird conservationists must also continue to articulate the importance of birds in our lives by educating the public about the nuances of the lives of birds – their intelligence, their documented communication and problem-solving skills, and their beauty – to help others understand why we care, and why the casual dismissal of hundreds of millions of annual deaths is a callous affront.

Dr. Longcore is Science Director of The Urban Wildlands Group, which, along with co-plaintiffs including ABC, successfully sued to halt implementation of a TNR program in the City of Los Angeles until environmental review of the consequences of the program is undertaken.


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6 Responses to American Bird Conservancy opinion piece on trap-neuter-release cat colonies

  1. Travis Longcore’s recent editorial raises several questions—questions neither he nor the American Bird Conservancy are willing to answer.

    Indeed, the quote Longcore cites from “one [TNR] advocate” makes the point quite nicely. The complete quote (from the Vox Felina Facebook page,, for which I am administrator) reads:

    “Even if it were true that cats kill 500 million birds a year, that figure still does not tell me anything. I also need to know how many birds in total die annually, and how many get born. I have posed this question in a serious and non-confrontational way to many an ABC / TWS person, but never receive any response.”

    Of course this commenter never received a response from the American Bird Conservancy or The Wildlife Society—what can they say? How can they reconcile their long-standing witch-hunt against free-roaming cats with the very different position of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for example?

    “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” (RSPB, 2011).

    And, outdoor cats are the norm in the UK, unlike here in the U.S. So, how is it that the RSPB comes to such a different position on the issue, compared to ABC or the Audubon Society? If it’s misguided, then why aren’t the U.S. organizations disputing it, setting the record straight?

    Another—far more pressing—question TNR opponents overlook or ignore: How exactly do TNR restrictions/bans benefit the wildlife these folks claim to protect? I’ve asked several people—including Longcore—for an answer and gotten nowhere. Which is no surprise, really—there’s certainly no science to support such a claim.

    If, as you suggest, Tim, TNR programs “cause more problems than they solve,” I wonder what solution(s) you propose.

    Peter J. Wolf

    Literature Cited
    • RSPB. (2011). Are cats causing bird declines? [Electronic Version]. Retrieved October 26, 2011, from


  2. I propose the solutions Dr. Longcore spelled out. That’s why I began my post indicating that I was sharing the article because I agree with his assessment. Longcore’s solutions:

    “There are many methods of promoting responsible pet ownership to reduce the number of stray animals, including roaming ordinances, low-cost and mandatory spay/neuter practices, per-household pet limits, and cat licensing laws. Effective control of free-roaming cats requires aggressive efforts that almost always will include euthanasia. And like any nuisance animal control program, the efforts must be sustained.”

    Many suburban landscapes *could* provide viable habitats for multiple native species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, but they don’t because those landscapes almost invariably are overrun with cats.


  3. td says:

    bird zealots such as yourself represent represents a radical agenda that prioritizes bird rights over the welfare of humans, cats and other wildlife and the rights of people who enjoy and care about them.

    property damages: during fiscal years 06-10 $14 million in bird-caused damages to resources and property in Washington alone.

    agriculture damages: FY06 through FY10 period totaled nearly $1.5 million in Washington and encompassed several types of damage

    health concerns: birds are a host to many naturally occurring zoonotic diseases which are transmissible to humans and pets. bird feces contain corrosive acids and are laden with bacteria, either of which may endanger human health. for FY06 through FY10, Washington recorded approximately $332,000 in bird damages where feces caused illness or injury. the primary zoonotic diseases of birds in WA include salmonellosis, chlamydiosis, histoplasmosis, Newcastle disease, West Nile virus, and avian influenza. Salmonellosis, chlamydiosis, West Nile virus, and highly pathogenic avian influenza are reportable diseases.

    human safety concerns: FY06 through FY010, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded $1.8 million in wildlife damage to civil aircraft, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) reported approximately $970,000 in damages for USAF aircraft, and the U.S. Navy (USN) reported approximately $1 million in damages to naval aircraft in Washington.

    property damage: bird damage to property in Washington totaled approximately $10.5 million for FY06 through FY10.

    damage to natural resources: migrating threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead smolt become more susceptible to predation by birds as they pass through dams on their migration to the ocean. fish bypasses, “fish friendly” turbines, and many other measures are constructed by hydroelectric facilities to protect and enhance salmon and steelhead survival. hydroelectric facilities must work to protect migrating smolt from the opportunistic feeding activities of predatory birds.other damages to natural resources caused by birds, especially waterfowl and gulls, can include damage to watersheds and soil from overgrazing, erosion, and the contamination of beaches and waters with fecal material.

    Washington recorded approximately $237,000 in damages to natural resources for the analysis period (MIS 2011), but it is not always possible to assign a value to natural resources. the USACE presented a breakdown of Juvenile Salmon Economic Valuation in USACE (2004) which shows an annual cost of $500 million for salmonid restoration programs, with the value of one adult salmon equaling $300. USACE estimates that it takes 50 juvenile salmon to return one adult, because in part it is estimated that up to 40% of some seaward salmon migrations are consumed by piscivorous birds.

    damage to agriculture: Canada geese, starlings, cowbirds, English sparrows, and feral pigeons caused more than $300,000 in damages to grains and pasture crops in Washington from FY06 through FY10. Blackbirds, starlings, English sparrows, feral pigeons, and crows often consume or contaminate feed at cattle feeding facilities and dairies. Flocks of up to 250,000 and more starlings have been reported at feedlots in Washington.Large flocks of birds also carry species of mites that may be introduced into poultry houses (Kern 1997). Black-billed magpies and common ravens have also been known to destroy eggs, peck out the eyes of lambs, and are responsible for newborn livestock mortality (Hygnstrom et al. 1994, Larson and Dietrich 1970). Ravens have been reported damaging silage bags, resulting in the spoilage of feed.

    birds are also vectors for diseases and parasites that negatively impact fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants (Gorenzel et al. 1994). Merganser and cormorant damage to salmonids produced for aquaculture purposes (not T&E population enhancement) for Washington in FY06 through FY10 totaled more than $469,000 and damages by other species to other aquaculture resources totaled about $100,000. Canada geese have been reported damaging oyster beds through feces contamination. Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) and certain species of waterfowl are common predators at trout hatcheries, and injure and stress trout.

    these examples are not inclusive of all type of damages that occur to agriculture in Washington, just those reported.

    human safety: globally, wildlife strikes have killed at least 276 people and destroyed more than 210 aircraft since 1988 (Richardson and West 2000, Thorpe 2010, Dolbeer, unpublished data). nationally, birdstrikes cause an estimated $650 million damage to aviation annually (Begier, unpublished data).

    sadly, i could go on since the ways that birds cause harm is extensive.


  4. So we should . . . destroy all birds?

    I suppose the most effective means to solve all those problems would be to fund TNR programs, right? I love watching house cats tangle with herons and geese.


  5. td says:

    seeing as how you obviously do not put forth the effort to actually examine facts (as opposed to the Longcore kool-aid) then perhaps you should worry about what is being done to protect the environment (including wildlife) from the far bigger threat – birds.


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