When a cat kills a bird, there typically isn’t a town-wide controversy when it occurs.
A New Jersey seaside town, Cape May, is dealing with a heated cat versus bird situation. But this isn’t just any other bird. The bird that is being affected is the piping plover.
This endangered bird is a sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches. The piping plovers breed on East Coast beaches during warm weather. Their predators include foxes, gulls, raccoons and cats. These birds have closed beaches, stopped development projects and even stopped a fireworks display in Maine to protect their habitat.
There are only 115 piping plovers in New Jersey and their declining numbers are being blamed on roaming feral cats in the area. Due to the endangered status of the piping plovers, the federal government may step in to help on the behalf of the birds. Cat lovers are worried that cats found roaming will be euthanized to save the piping plovers. On other hand, bird lovers are afraid that if nothing is done, this rare bird will become extinct.
Also, Cape May is one of the prime bird-watching spots in North America. The World Series of Birding is held here annually. Since the bird watching industry brings in about $2 billion a year to New Jersey’s economy, the piping plovers may win this battle.
Cape May residents are also divided over the issue.
“I think the cats are more of a nuisance than anything else,” said resident Bill Schemel. “They’re killing endangered birds that belong out here. Cats are not part of the natural environment. They’re here because someone’s cat had a litter and they dumped them out in the woods.”
“This is a very emotional issue; this really is a cat town,” said resident Pat Peckham. “I think they should leave the cats where they are. I’m a firm believer in letting nature take its course.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is analyzing this cat versus bird situation in this seaside town. Some of their recommendations include requiring cats to be licensed, prohibit roaming cats and abandoning cats, and prohibit feeding any wildlife including feral cats.
For the past 12 years, Cape May has tried to keep the cat population in check with their trap, neuter and release program. Except in May, a fire destroyed the facility where the local animal rescue group kept the feral cats. A replacement place has not been found yet, so fewer cats have been picked up. And this means more cats that can possibly affect the well-being of the piping plover.
Eric Stiles, vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society, says that it doesn’t have to be cats versus birds. It can be cats and birds. He is working on a program to satisfy both bird and cat lovers. The program would include bird and cat advocacy groups working together to find the locations of the piping plovers and the feral cat colonies. Cats near piping plover habitats could be relocated, while others that are further away could stay undisturbed.
Source: Washington Post