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Environment

Study: Are L.A. Housecats Killing Off All the Baby Sparrows?

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Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Lemme get that - LAURIE MUNRO VIA FLICKR
  • Laurie Munro via Flickr
  • Lemme get that
We knew our neighborhood housecats were fickle, and death-stareish, and inclined to linger near our tires when we're late for work and perch on our garbage bin when we're late for the garbage truck. But new Smithsonian Institute research makes America's domesticated devils out to be the driving force behind a much greater evil: the disappearance of baby birds.

Though the study was conducted in the suburbs of Washington, DC with gray catbirds (who seem to be sadly condemned by name from birth), author Peter Marra tells the Weekly (after a few minutes on hold with some gangster polka, 'cause that's how the Smithsonian roll) that "it would definitely apply to species over [here] as well."

Results show that almost 40 percent of all baby-bird deaths can be attributed to housecats -- a figure that swells in leafy suburban communities where owning a cat is most popular. In science speak, "cats are likely regulating post-fledging survival in some urban environments."

Can you say Silverlake, Venice, West Hollywood? Come to think of it, Los Angeles County is probably the West Coast capital of (ever densifying) city sprawl dotted by big green backyards.

Marra says that in SoCal, the species that would most likely mimic the gray catbirds in the East Coast study are brown towhees and sparrows. And that's not even touching on all the lizards, snakes and small mammals subjected to the wrath of the spoiled Los Angeles housecat.

So it's up to you, L.A. Which is more hip: Owning your own sheddy crankster, or living in a world that still tweets with the joyful song of baby sparrows? (Come on -- that iconic sparrow silhouette? No competition.)

A few more fast facts to inform your decision:

• Windmills are the mainstream target of ridicule for bird deaths, even though they kill only about 440,000 birds per year -- as opposed to the 500 million killed by cats, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

• Marra says about 33 types of island birds have gone extinct in the jaws of felines.

• The New York Times reports that researchers " affixed tiny radio transmitters to the birds to follow them." Awww. That's almost as cute as the new hummingbird war spy.

• This is a video of a fluffy little sparrow scaring himself with his own voice. 'Nuff said.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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