Monday, January 02, 2006

Birders count cats!

[Fine with me, being a birder and a feral cat advocate, if the information is collected and used properly! Let us know what other beings will be counted in future. ;-)]

Birders asked to count feral cats
Wisconsin State Journal - December 14, 2005
RON SEELY rseely@madison.com

Participants in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will be counting more than just birds this year. They will also be counting cats.

The effort is intended to provide information on the number of free-ranging feral cats that may be roaming the state. Such cats have been the subject of considerable controversy this year for the threat they pose to wild birds - and some fear the move may again raise the possibility of making it legal to shoot feral cats.
While the primary purpose of the count is to have birders collect data on the status and distribution of birds in the Western Hemisphere, it isn't unusual for participants to also collect other, related information.

In the past, for example, participants in Wisconsin's count have helped monitor the numbers of crows and blue jays, birds that play a role in the spread of West Nile Virus.

So this year, it's cats.

"We thought that while we have people out there, why not gather some data on this?" said Karen Etter Hale, executive secretary of the Madison Audubon Society. "We have relatively little data on this."

The cat count was suggested by the issues committee of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, a coalition of groups, agencies and individuals working to study and protect birds and their habitats. William Mueller, issues committee chairman for the organization, has put the word out on the Wisconsin Birding Network, a computer bulletin board where birders share sightings.

Mueller suggested participants in the count keep track of the number of cats they see in the area they are assigned to count. In addition, he said, counters are also being asked to provide a rough estimate of the distance cats are seen from houses, barns or farm outbuildings.

"Basically," Mueller said, "we'd just like to get a handle on the number of cats people are seeing, whether more cats turn up, for example, in northern counties."
The proposal has not been without controversy. Some have suggested that the count raises once again the possibility of making it legal to hunt the free-ranging cats - a plan that raised hackles last year when it went before the Conservation Congress, a statewide group that advises the Department of Natural Resources on hunting and outdoor issues.

But Etter Hale said it is likely the data will be used by academics and others studying the difficult issue, not to push for a hunting season on feral cats.
"There is no hidden agenda here," Etter Hale said.

The bird count, in its 106th year nationwide, begins today and runs through Jan. 5. About 50,000 people participate nationwide.