The recent National Geographic recently published an online discussion about "solving the feral cat problem". They highlighted a statement made by a former Audubon freelance editor promoting murdering all the wild cats. It centres around the painful awareness by so many about the numbers of birds killed by "catus" domesticus.
This narrow focus fails to recognize the value of cats. If all the feral cats were suddenly to disappear by any means, we would be overrun by with mice, rats and other rodents which are their preferred food.
We live on an acreage more than 26 km from the nearest small town. Before we acquired a house cat and two garage cats, there were mice running in the ceiling above our bed. We'd find mouse droppings in the laundry room and even in the pantry! Having one house cat wasn't enough. The two garage cats catch the mice as they try to enter.
The garage cats go out in the morning when the dog is let out. We put them in again and feed them when the bird feeders are filled. They spend the rest of the day going in and out - in warmer weather they'll be outside longer. Birds are very difficult for cats to catch - in cold weather they won't even try - they have to devote enormous energy to endless patient stalking. Our cats spend hours "tracking" birds and invariably eventually give up and find other amusement. In the three years that we've had garage cats, we have found evidence of kills only twice. Our cats stay close to the house, glued to watching their reality T-V, in the sun and sometimes sheltered by the house.
As the snow disappears, there will be oodles of ground animals, leaves will come out on the trees and the cats won't be interested in climbing. We think that our windows are a greater hazard to the birds than the cats - if hitting the window doesn't kill the bird, they become stunned and helpless on the ground. It is actually surprising that we have found only two bundles of coarse wing feathers around the gardens, deck and walkways.
If the cities' feral cats were provided with food, they would continue to hunt their favourite delicacies, the rodents, and largely leave the birds alone. If they are provided with food, we'd find little evidence of kills. My recommendation doesn't mean that they should have a balanced diet but rather that they should be fed from restaurant waste, the amount of edible food thrown out by restaurants would be re-cycled! What is not to like about this plan.
Disclaimer: I am not opposed to catch, neuter, release programs which I think make a favourable impact on the populations - not only does do the numbers decrease but the remainder look healthier. Those really skinny females with dugs hanging to the ground look so pitiful desperately hunting for their nursing babies. You just know that their hormones have forced them to breed repeatedly - unlike housecats, a feral cat has an average lifespan of 3 years. A female will have produced at least 4 litters of 2 - 6 (sometimes more) kittens. As a farm girl, our family had a cat population that was constantly growing in spite of my parents culling and barnyard life. One year, a disease spread through our grossly overblown population of 37 cats. We were all traumatized by it and resolved never to permit that to happen again. We employed every tool - neutering males, drowning kittens, the occasional "lead poisoning", cyanide, carbon monoxide. Cats cannot control their own population, like rabbits they increase exponentially. No one ever considered becoming "catless" - we knew the value of cats. If we had a barn, we'd have a barn cat.