Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Cats tagged in bird killing study

One of the cats in the study
The cats have been fitted with harnesses which log their movements

Scientists in Berkshire are tagging 200 cats to find out if the UK's pet felines are responsible for killing an estimated 92 million animals a year.

The cats are being fitted with electronic harnesses to study their hunting behaviour.

Preliminary research at the University of Reading suggests that domestic cats could be killing up to 10,000 prey animals per sq km in urban areas.

It is thought this is "significantly affecting" some urban bird species.

Rebecca Dulieu, a PhD student in environmental biology at the university has recruited the cats and their owners for the study based around Reading.

Given their extremely high densities it could be the case that cats are significantly affecting bird populations in [urban] areas.
Rebecca Dulieu, reseracher

Cats are thought to bring home about 30% of their prey and Ms Dulieu will collect what they deliver to their owners.

GPS tracking devices will also be used to determine the area over which a single cat is roaming.

Ms Dulieu said: "In Britain, we have an estimated nine million pet cats, most of which live in urban areas.

"Given their extremely high densities it could be the case that cats are significantly affecting bird populations in these areas.

"For example, house sparrow numbers in urban areas have declined by 60% since the 1980s, most likely due to changes in urban habitats, but this is also one of the species most commonly killed by cats.

"For the first time, pet cats will be fitted with data loggers attached to a harness which will log their every movement and allow us to identify actions which have distinctive signatures such as eating, drinking and hunting.

"Correlating these data with the actual prey returned will give us a good idea of predation rates in urban areas."

Species most affected are blackbirds, robins, sparrows and other ground feeding birds, as well as wood mice, bank voles and shrews.

In a second phase of the study, researchers will look at bird densities in urban areas to see whether declining populations match high cat densities.

A survey of more than 600 cat owners carried out in 1997 estimated that British felines kill 92 million animals a year.

It is estimated that people in the UK consume 1bn farm animals and 1.5bn fish each year.



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