The Humane Society of the United States estimates that nearly 35 percent of households in the United States own a cat, with nearly 85 million domestic cats residing in the country. HSUS also estimates that there are another 50-70 million feral cats in the United States. A feral cat is one that is completely wild or doesn’t have an owner and can have a devastating impact on wildlife.

Feral cats have been listed as one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world due to the negative impact that they can have on native wildlife, especially birds. In a recent paper published in “Nature Communications,” an open-access journal that publishes research in biology, physics, chemistry and earth sciences, it was estimated that 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are killed by cats each year. That number is second only to habitat loss when it comes to its impact on small bird populations in the county.

Domestic cats are popularly known as faithful companions in the house as well as excellent “mousers” outside and around the farm. Cats are very efficient hunters, and this is why most farmers want a few cats around the barn to keep the mouse numbers in check. Unfortunately, cats cannot differentiate between a bad mouse and a good bird.

One of the big impacts that feral cats have on wildlife in South Dakota is nesting birds, which includes pheasants. Not only will feral cats catch newly hatched chicks, but they are also known to predate on hen pheasants incubating their nests.

There are several things that cat owners can do to reduce the impact cats can have on wildlife. First is to spay or neuter their cats, which reduces the number of unwanted cats that could turn feral and wander in search of food.

Cat owners should also keep their cats in the house. Cats have a natural instinct to hunt, and even well-fed cats will get the urge to kill wildlife.

It’s also wise to reduce the chances of conflict. For example, if you have bird feeders or a bird bath, locate them in areas that birds have good visibility and can’t be ambushed.

Stray cats should always be reported to animal control services. Many of these cats may not have had the proper vaccinations, which can put both people and their pets in danger of diseases that may be carried by feral cats. In fact, the average lifespan of a feral cat is less than 3 years due to disease and the dangers of living in the wild.

Please help reduce the potential harm feral cats have on wildlife by following these suggestions, but most importantly, if you’re a cat owner, make sure your cat is spayed or neutered.

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