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Reuters, Published January 31 2013

Hot Topics: Study shows cats are efficient hunters

Think of cats as cute purring bundles of fur? Think again. A new study says free-roaming kitties are serious killers.

Such cats are a leading cause of deaths of birds and small mammals in the United States, with pet and ownerless cats blamed for killing up to

3.7 billion birds and as many as 20.7 billion other animals each year, government scientists said in a study released Tuesday.

Ownerless cats, including barn cats, strays and feral colonies, are behind the vast majority of bird and mammal deaths, according to the study, “The impact of free-ranging cats on wildlife in the United States,” published Tuesday in the online journal Nature Communications.

The study is the first to compile and systematically analyze rates of cat predation. It suggests cats cause “substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought,” and are likely the single greatest source of mortality linked to human settlement for U.S. birds and mammals.

The findings by researchers with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show the bulk of birds killed by cats in the United States – excluding Alaska and Hawaii – were native species such as robins, finches and chickadees.

Cats largely prey on non-native mice and rats in densely populated urban areas where native wildlife is scarce, the research shows.

By contrast, cats in suburban and rural areas kill mostly native mice, shrews, voles, squirrels and rabbits, according to the study authored by Peter Marra and Scott Loss of the Smithsonian and Tom Will of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds.

Domestic cats, introduced globally by humans, are considered among the 100 worst non-native invasive species in the world, yet control of the creatures has not been widely addressed by local, state and federal governments, the study shows.