Feral Cats are Killing Rare Hawaiian Petrels: Video Reveals Cat Hunting Chick

First Posted: Apr 20, 2013 08:04 AM EDT

Cats may be cute and fluffy, but they can also be ruthless and effective hunters. Now, researchers have evidence that feral cats are helping aid the disappearance of rare petrels on the island of Hawaii.

The endangered Hawaiian petrel is a bird of the open Pacific. It spends most of its life among the waves, feeding on squid, fish and crustaceans. Yet between March and October, the petrel returns to the Hawaiian Islands of Maui, Lana'i and Kaua'i in order to breed. There, the creature nests in a burrow in a remote, montane location. This can include along large rock outcrops, under old lichen-covered lava or in soil beneath dense vegetation. The petrel lays just one white egg within this burrow, which helps explain why the number of individuals has declined in recent years.

Although once abundant on the main Hawaiian islands, this species has continued to decline. Threats to the bird include development in nesting habitat, ocean pollution, light attraxtion and collision and introduced predators--such as feral cats.

The recent study, conducted by scientists from the University of Hawaii, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological survey, monitored 14 Hawaiian petrel burrows with digital infrared video cameras. The researchers watched these burrows in both 2007 and 2008, and found direct, photographic evidence of feral cats in these burrows.

One video showed a feral cat waiting near the entrance of a burrow for more than an hour. Eventually, a small chick emerged from within. When it did, the cat quickly attacked the bird; the remains of the chick were later found nearby, according to the LA Times. The researchers also found the remains of other bird carcasses which they attributed to feral cats due to the presence of cat scat.

In the end, the researchers were able to conclude that cats are a significant reason why the Hawaiian petrel is declining. Yet this finding isn't completely surprising. At the beginning of this year, a study revealed that cats killed billions of creatures annually in the U.S., including 3.7 billion birds.

Officials are now planning to take steps to protect the petrel from predators. More specifically, they're constructing a fence designed to keep feral cats out of the Hawaiian petrel nesting habitat in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The study was published in the journal Pacific Conservation Biology.

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