Cats – particularly feral cats – are a leading cause of bird deaths. A recent report by Smithsonian scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion a year, underscoring the need for effective solutions to protect wild birds and cats alike.
Ted Williams, a freelance writer and long time columnist for Audubon Magazine, recently wrote an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel entitled Trap, neuter, return programs make feral-cat problem worse. His central point was about the ineffectiveness of trap-neuter-return programs and the effects of feral cats on bird populations. The original article (PDF) (which has since been edited by the Orlando Sentinel) was misconstrued as providing a “do-it-yourself” recipe for killing feral cats.
Feral cat activists started a petition calling for Audubon to break ties with Ted Williams. National Audubon responded with the following statement, posted both on Facebook and on their website.
The National Audubon Society is unequivocal on the important issue of cat and bird safety: We reject the idea of people taking matters into their own hands in ways that can harm neighbors’ pets – or any cats.
Audubon strongly believes that cats belong indoors. That’s safer for them and for the birds. Feral and free-roaming cats are subject to injury, disease, and predation. We urge communities around the country to adopt effective measures to counter problems suffered and caused by cats and to vigorously enforce existing rules and procedures.
Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel. In the course of the original piece, which has since been edited by the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Williams described using over-the-counter drugs to poison cats. And because of Mr. Williams’ stated affiliation with Audubon in that original piece, some readers assumed that Audubon was endorsing this approach. We do not. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t. Audubon magazine today suspended his work and will remove him as “Editor at Large” from the masthead pending further review.
Mr. Williams is not an Audubon employee. He is a freelance writer and a conservationist who has written for Audubon for 33 years. He writes for numerous publications.
We fully understand the gravity of the issue of the threats cats present to birds. Cats – particularly feral cats – are a leading cause of bird deaths. National Audubon Society has long supported a “Cats Indoors” campaign urging pet owners to keep their cats indoors for the safety of both their pets and birds. Audubon has guidelines on how to keep both birds and cats safe at www.audubon.org. We’ve had this guidance on our web site for years and we think it’s good, common sense.
A recent report by Smithsonian scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds each year, underscoring the need for effective solutions to protect wild birds and cats alike.
But backyard poisoning isn’t the answer and we want to make it absolutely clear we don’t support that idea.
Northeast PA Audubon has responded as follows:
On behalf of Northeast PA Audubon, I am writing to express our extreme disappointment with National Audubon’s short-sighted response to the article published in the Orlando Sentinel by Ted Williams.
National Audubon’s response on Facebook and on audubon.org starts off with a statement rejecting the idea of “people taking matters into their own hands” and ends with a statement that “backyard poisoning isn’t the answer.” Neither of these statements are advocated in Ted’s article. When writing about alternatives to TNR, it is clear from the context that Ted is referring to options available to authorized agencies (“state and federal wildlife managers”). He also argues that action needs to be extended to the “municipal” level — the last I checked, “municipal” refers to local government. Why are you apologizing for things Ted didn’t say? For those who don’t bother to look up and read the original article (which include many, judging from the comments I’ve read online), you are misleading people to believe that Ted’s article actually did advocate “people taking matters into their own hands” and “backyard poisoning.”
Ted William’s articles in Audubon Magazine are well-researched, well-reasoned, and written with a strong voice. We need more of this kind of writing, not less. Unfortunately a newspaper opinion column doesn’t allow for the same in-depth treatment as does Audubon Magazine. But at least it’s bringing this important issue to public attention. But instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to engage in real debate and discussion, National Audubon has responded by going on the defensive and throwing Ted Williams under the bus. The way you’ve attempted to distance yourself from Ted Williams is disgraceful (especially given that the Sentinel article nowhere states that Ted was speaking on behalf of Audubon). We find this unprincipled and lacking in integrity — and quite frankly, we expect better from you.
Feral cats are a real problem, killing billions of birds in the United States annually. While an emotional issue for many, an informed public discussion of the issue and alternatives involved is essential if progress is to be made. There is still time to turn this around. We strongly encourage you to do the right thing.
Northeast PA Audubon
To be clear, we are not advocating that people “take matters into their own hands” and poison feral cats. Such decisions belong to wildlife management officials. And these decisions should be informed by the facts. Let’s pull the throttle back and have an informed public discussion.
Felines Fatales, article by Ted Williams in Audubon Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2009
Cats kill more than one billion birds each year, Science News, Feb. 2013
Cats Indoors, American Bird Conservancy
Trap, Neuter, and Release: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds, American Bird Conservancy Video (YouTube)