GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new University of Florida study shows cats are the dominant predator to mockingbird eggs and nestlings in urban areas, prompting conservationists to urge pet owners to keep felines indoors at night.
The findings challenge assumptions that urban areas are places of refuge for nesting mockingbirds, a species researchers say plays an important role in controlling insect pests and serving as environmental indicators for metropolitan areas.
"I thought the cats probably really hammered them [birds] when they were fledglings, but when they were in the nests, I didn't really expect the cats to be a huge problem," said study author Christine Stracey, who led the research as a doctoral student at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "But I was really wrong about that."
Researchers video recorded northern mockingbird nest predators in urban and natural habitats during the nesting seasons from 2007 to 2009. The study in the May 2011 issue of Biological Conservation shows cats were responsible for more than 70 percent of the urban attacks.
The highest population densities of the mockingbird the state bird of five states including Florida are found in urban areas. Urbanization is one of the main causes of species endangerment in the United States, but some species such as the mockingbird have adapted extremely well to humans and urban environments, said Florida Museum of Natural History Ordway Eminent Scholar Scott Robinson, Stracey's research adviser.
"Here's this native species that is able to not only live with us, but do really well living with us, and so it represents kind of the opposite of what we normally think about the effects cities have on native birds," said Stracey, now an assistant professor of biology at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. "If we can figure out why and how it succeeds, maybe there's ways and things we can do in terms of city planning and managem
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University of Florida