Debunking the Myth of Feral Cats Devastating Us Songbird Populations

Debunking the Myth of Feral Cats Devastating Us Songbird Populations

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

This post was updated 2/23/2024 with comments from a cat “industry expert” below

We try to stay true to our philosophy and vision about the care of exotic birds but because we love birds we’re always trying to learn a little more. Most of you reading this have birds.

Some of you are thinking of getting a bird and others have had birds. Were all here for the same reason. We love birds. Humans will always disappoint, and birds never will.

I’ve seen this argument come up repeatedly in the past year or so. Feral cats are devastating the songbird population. Folks, I don’t buy it. But because I’m the guy without the degree of the white lab coat I’ve got to go out and earn your trust the old-fashioned way.

Fact check the heck out of everything!

I’m old. I read the paper Chicago Tribune almost 7 days a week. On page 2, for those of you who read the New York Times even though you don’t live in a city 900 miles east of here, a political satirist named John Kass talks about any number of subjects several days a week.

Last week John wrote a post entitled “Feral cats, rats and songbirds form unnatural mix” about en-listing feral cats to help reduce the Chicago rat population which makes way too much sense.

I was fine with the article until I read “And that’s what they do,” said Clay, who lives in Springfield. “Feral cats devastate bird populations. The last thing we need is to reintroduce invasive species like the cat.

I am no expert and do not have a formal education – on anything for that matter but for the past 14 years, I have studied the activity of both captive and wild birds – full time – not a bad gig if you can get it.

The subject keeps coming up that feral cats are destroying the wild bird population. I live in a campground approximately 30 weekends a year. We have bird feeders and we have feral cats. Thank you to some of my neighbors who have been collecting the cats for spay and neutering, but we still have feral cats.

Thus for more than a dozen years, I have been a student of the interaction between feral cats and songbirds. But people don’t care about my opinion because I don’t have a lot of letters after my name indicating that I somehow made it through my drunken stupor and got some sort of college degree. That’s why I became a numbers guy.

I’m telling you people – these numbers make absolutely no sense. Nobody knows a damn thing about what they’re talking about when it comes to feral cats and the death of songbirds. It won’t take long to get to the bottom of this.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics survey conducted in 2012, there were 74,059,000 cats in American homes

My first question is who’s counting US feral acts – if you Google the term “feral cat population US” it looks as though the number seems to be 50 to 60 million feral cats in the United States.

I found another study entitled New Research Suggests Outdoor Cats Kill More Wildlife Than Previously Thought from the Wildlife Management Institute claims about 30% of feral cats were successful in capturing and killing prey or about 2.1 kills per week on average. Let’s say one of those meals is Tweety Pie.

“If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, – or about 14% of the USA Today study “estimate”

If you read the USA Today story they claim that Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year.

But they go on to say about a third “of the 800 species of birds in the USA” are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline, according to the American Bird Conservancy – really?

I took the list from Wikipedia List of birds of the United States listing about 1700 species – by name – more than double the estimate of the American Bird Conservancy – if I had the time we’d track down the number of migrating birds going from one continent to another who landed in America which probably adds another two or 3000 or 4000 species of birds on American soil throughout the year – which gives all of these studies even less credence.

According to The 115th Christmas Bird Count December 14, 2014 through January 5, 2015, there are (64,818,439 in the United States, 3,505,029 in Canada, and 429,539 elsewhere). That total is certainly in the ballpark average for much of the past quarter-century;

how many of these birds will be killed by a cat – today?

Does anyone have a calculator?

re: “If you read the Cats kill up to 3.7B birds annually” 20,000 feral cats killing one bird a week is only 1,0404,000,000 per year 1/3 of USA Today’s estimate – But double the Wildlife Management Institute’s study

OR

20 million feral cats are eating three birds a week

meaning

re: “According to The 115th Christmas Bird Count December 14, 2014, there are (64,818,439 in the United States….” cats are killing 100% of the bird population every year – twice.

Not only are the numbers meaningless but if you really look at cats and songbirds you will see that birds can fly – cats cannot. The reason a bird has a standing heart rate of 200 bpm is so that it can be instantly airborne at 25 miles an hour. Mother nature gave birds wings to fly great distances to find food and for flight at fright.

USA Today says this happens 10,000,000 times a day – the Wildlife Management Institute says this happens 1,400,000 times a day – redefining the term credibility.
 

Everybody is just guessing with these stupid and conflicting numbers. I would like to point out that non-predatory birds are prey animals that spend 40% of their waking time seeking food and 60% of their waking time trying not to be food. Birds are far smarter than rodents and far harder to get in the paws of a cat.

A cat can’t jump 6 feet high on a good day and sneaking up on a bird whether it be on the ground or in a tree is no simple task.

One of the reasons is that feral cats tend to be loners. They may sleep together but they’re out looking for food for themselves. Birds are “flock” animals when they are seeking food it is a team effort food is here danger is there everybody is communicated and is part of the team.

The immature bird that gets its tail stepped on by a cat is just that, young and dumb. Because a cat ain’t going to sneak up on a redheaded woodpecker – with any success. Woodpeckers come down a tree in a 360° spiral rotation. If anything is out of the ordinary in their global universe – they move to another ZIP Code.

Does anyone still read USA Today John Kass?

re more: 

Why aren’t all of the feral Quaker parrot colonial nests in the Hyde Park area of Chicago a piñata superstore for feral cats?

Written by the Windy City Parrot Content Team.

Update 02/23/2024

Mia Thompson <[email protected]>
Feb 20, 2024, 9:26 AM (3 days ago)
to info

Hello there,

I noticed that your article references an outdated stat. You mentioned that there are 50 to 60 million Feral cats in the US. Based on our most recent data, these figures have been updated, and According to the latest research and data, There Are 30 to 80 Million Stray, Feral, Uncared & Homeless Cats in the US.

As one of the leading organizations in advocacy, It’s the World Animal Foundation’s utmost duty to ensure such statistics are current, not just on our platform but also on other relevant platforms.

Having recently revised our article with the newest statistics, I wanted to share this so you might consider a similar update or if you are considering writing on this topic in the near future.

For your reference and to verify the new statistics, please visit our page: https://worldanimalfoundation.org/advocate/pet-adoption-statistics/

To provide your audience with direct access to the latest data, we’d be grateful if you could link to our article when making the update.

Thank you for your attention to this.

Best Regards.

Mia Thompson,

Asst. Outreach Manager
World Animal Foundation
Unsubscribe

Mia Thompson <[email protected]>
9:12 AM (57 minutes ago)
to info

Hello again,

I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to follow up on my previous email regarding the outdated stat in your article about Stray, Feral, Uncared & Homeless Cats In the US.

Many organizations, upon receiving our initial notice, have updated their figures and mentioned us as a token of appreciation, as they were previously unaware of the release of the latest statistics.

If you haven’t had a chance to review it, kindly take a moment to update the figure for accuracy.

Your prompt action will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Best regards,

MitchR responds – now you are just plain annoying Mia,

First of all, I write the content here and see no reason to change it.

The 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 figure which is bullshit to begin with has a statistical margin for error of plus or minus 10%.

30,000,000 to 80,000,000 has a statistical margin for error of plus or minus 50% or depending on how you look at it, your margin of error will be as high as 50,000,000 – which is fine for atoms but feral cats, not so much.

I travel through 4 midwestern states regularly both rural and urban areas.

I recently drove from Indiana to Texas and back.

80,000,000 feral cats would be 1,600,000 per state.

I saw no feral cats on my Texas drive or driving around the Midwest but these are large states, granted.

But 1,6000,0000 cats in states like Delaware, Rhode Island, or Hawaii – Towns (where the food is) would be overridden like Chicago is with rats.

Why aren’t 1,600,000 rats being controlled by all the supposed feral cats?

Because they ain’t there.

Chicago uses 1000 feral cats to control rats – https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/5/12/cats-at-work-us-city-uses-1000-feral-felines-to-fight-rats

This begs the question where are the other 1,599,000 feral cats?

We know that’s not working as we moved from just outside downtown Chicago – rats were rampant in our alley

So I’m politely asking you to keep your meaningless statistics – I won’t be so polite if there is a next time.

But thank you for providing fresh content on an Evergreen post about feral cats and their effect on songbirds.

Best

MitchR

Mitch-Rezman-front-porch-labor-day-2019-3
Mitch Rezman

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Thank you for admitting you know nothing on the subject other than a bit of internet research and personal observation. So many folks when they wish to doubt science they are too timid to admit they have nothing credible in their background to start such a debate. I admire you sir. I respectfully disagree with you and your argument, but respect your honesty and strength to be frank with your readers. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/outdoor-cats-kill-between-14-billion-and-37-billion-birds-a-year-study-says/2013/01/31/2504f744-6bbe-11e2-ada0-5ca5fa7ebe79_story.html?utm_term=.539f56ed80df

  2. Comment from Pam O:

    Hi again Mitch, I used the link to access the new blog site but when I got to the post I wanted to comment on, I had to click on the “To continue reading” link, which tossed me back to the old site. Here’s the comment I wanted to post:

    I back you up Chad Kuehne in your respectful disagreement of Mr. Rezman’s purported debunking of the “myth” that feral cats are destroying our bird populations. The author’s position is based on misinformation. For one, the data from Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Counts, nor the also-annual Spring BIrd Counts, do not represent the entire population of birds in the United States. The counts are conducted by volunteers in regions designated by area coordinators. Counts are taken within specified time periods, and the data collected is intended to serve as a gauge of how various species are doing in those areas. To say that these birders, despite their skill and dedication, are counting every single bird in their assigned area is a gross misunderstanding of the process.

    Another error is the thought that birds are flock animals. Certainly some species are more gregarious than others, but especially during the breeding season many of our native bird species adopt highly territorial behaviors and vigorously defend their areas from intruders, including individuals of their same species. This tendency unfortunately can lead to their deaths when they attempt to defend against a cat.

    Yet another misunderstanding Mr. Rexman holds is that the Wikipedia list of 1700 bird species of the United States is a more reliable source than numbers posted by the American Bird Conservancy. Looking at the Wikipedia list, it is immediately apparent that many birds listed are not native US species, but rather are vagrants–that is, birds that were blown off course from migration routes in Europe, Asia and Central and South America.

    Like you Mr. Rexman, I’m no expert. But I’ve witnesssed bird destruction by feral and free-roaming pet cats first hand. My neighbor’s cat killed at least one bird per day–not per week. I’ve also seen ferals stalking and killing birds in the parks where I work.

    Thanks for this opportunity to chime in!

  3. The comment on cats being smarter than rodents is yet more evidence of what this writer understands. At what they are evolved to do, each species is an expert. Location dependent memory and ability to identify odors is far superior in rodents, while birds excel at visually driven behaviors. And guess what, a beaver is as accurate as a carpenter in estimating the length of wood needed to accomplish a building task. Me thinks the writer is biased and generalizes way too much. I’ve never hit a rodent with my car, but I’ve hit dozens of pigeons and doves. They can’t me that stupid not to see a huge vehicle can they? Or perhaps it has nothing to do with intelligence per see because these species, -and many other birds exhibit tonic immobility as as a startle response. As for not understanding the numbers, please stop reading news paper articles or reports. Read primary research, especially the methods and results. The rest of the article is just opinion. Methods and results will show you what the numbers mean, and most importantly what their limits are. Once you know the limits, you will understand when it’s ok to mix one study’s numbers with another studies. What I see you doing is claiming a fact about an apple while counting oranges because your training is resting the Chicago tribune almost every day. FYI, most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level.

  4. The comment on cats being smarter than rodents is yet more evidence of what this writer understands. At what they are evolved to do, each species is an expert. Location dependent memory and ability to identify odors is far superior in rodents, while birds excel at visually driven behaviors. And guess what, a beaver is as accurate as a carpenter in estimating the length of wood needed to accomplish a building task. Me thinks the writer is biased and generalizes way too much. I’ve never hit a rodent with my car, but I’ve hit dozens of pigeons and doves. They can’t me that stupid not to see a huge vehicle can they? Or perhaps it has nothing to do with intelligence per see because these species, -and many other birds exhibit tonic immobility as as a startle response. As for not understanding the numbers, please stop reading news paper articles or reports. Read primary research, especially the methods and results. The rest of the article is just opinion. Methods and results will show you what the numbers mean, and most importantly what their limits are. Once you know the limits, you will understand when it’s ok to mix one study’s numbers with another studies. What I see you doing is claiming a fact about an apple while counting oranges because your training is resting the Chicago tribune almost every day. FYI, most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level.

  5. Just found this one on why we think we are all experts. And there is one line from the article I have to comment on. It’s based on a Yale study that showed an A grade is one of the most common grades today. If I weren’t, you loose student customers. Well, the people I teach can waste a lot of time, money and effort only to discover they can’t get licensed or kill people because they don’t have the needed skill set. That is not the most common grade in my classes, though I hope and arrive to experience classes capable of that every time I teach. And with reasonable confidence I’d guess the writer of this article is a great parrot breeder with an opinion. But I also bet they really aren’t trained to be an academic researcher on cats and thier wild bird predation. For that matter neither am I, but I have training that has kept me reading primary literature for decades. Methods and results. Avoid the rest and news articles on topic unless the writer is someone you trust like the pius trust in the All Mighty. Those are opinions of opinions at best. Challenge but trust the experts. And make sure the expert really is one.
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pbs.org/newshour/amp/bb/problem-thinking-know-experts

    1. short bio

      I do not breed parrots – I’ll sell supplies and solve behavioral and indoor environment problems in captive birds.

      although most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level I like that because i can cruise through them quickly but thank for the complement.

      I also read google news so I supplement my viewswith another 30 – 50 news sources globally including Scientific American and https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/plants_animals/biology/ – daily

      I am an expert on captive bird care which is the reason 1/2 million people follow me in social media when talking about birds.

      I get from 20 – 200 google alerts on subjects related just to birds – every 24 hours

      So let me put this at an 8th grade level Clebia –

      I’m a Jew so I’m accountant by birthright and the numbers here would trigger an audit by anyone looking at them

      Let’s look at one sentence

      “If you read the USA Today story they claim that Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year.”

      So that’s a plus or minus 2.3 billion number – so much for accuracy.

      Let’s do some simple math.

      A mid range number would be 2.6 billion birds killed by feral cats in the US annually

      2.6 billion divided by 50 (states) = 13 billion birds killed in every one of our great 50 states annually.

      13 billion birds divided by 365 (days) = 35,616,438 birds are killed by feral cats EVERY 24 HOURS IN EACH AND EVERY OF THE 50 UNITED STATES including Alaska (cats have a short shelf life around bald eagles), Hawaii and Rhode Island

      You are clearly intelligent and well read – I travel between 2 states about 40 weekends a year.

      I motorcycle on country roads thousands of mile a year.

      35,616,438 birds are killed by feral cats?

      Where?

      Who’s doing the counting in Texas?

      The numbers make no sense thus are not trustworthy. meaning they are wrong

      a couple of factoids: although most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level I like that because i can cruise through them quickly but thank for the complement.

      I also read google news so i supplement with another 30 – 50 news sources globall

      There is a reason 1/2 million people follow me in social media when i talk about birds.

      get from 20 – 200 google alerts on subject relate just to birds

      You want to tangle with me? Let’s tangle

      re: I’ve never hit a rodent with my car, but I’ve hit dozens of pigeons and doves.

      You blew your cover when you used the words “birds exhibit tonic immobility”

      there is not one of the approximately 10,400 species of birds that exhibits tonic immobility, that’s for species like snakes

      Birds display the remarkable phenomenon of unihemispheric slow-wave sleep: One half of their brain is awake, including an open eye, and the other half shows the electrical signatures of sleep.

      A sleeping bird knows when a car is coming or a hawk or a cat

      That said some birds rely upon a state of suspended animation, known as torpor. I promise you if a bird put’s itself in torpor it does so while out of harms way ie in a cave, on a barbed wire fence, electrical wires etc

      Frigate birds can sleep while flying in a migration – about 42 minute every 24 hours

      I live 3 miles from downtown Chicago, the epicenter of midwest pigeons. I’ve never hit a pigeon in 50 YEARS I’ve been driving chicago city streets – your statement is suspect.

  6. Just found this one on why we think we are all experts. And there is one line from the article I have to comment on. It’s based on a Yale study that showed an A grade is one of the most common grades today. If I weren’t, you loose student customers. Well, the people I teach can waste a lot of time, money and effort only to discover they can’t get licensed or kill people because they don’t have the needed skill set. That is not the most common grade in my classes, though I hope and arrive to experience classes capable of that every time I teach. And with reasonable confidence I’d guess the writer of this article is a great parrot breeder with an opinion. But I also bet they really aren’t trained to be an academic researcher on cats and thier wild bird predation. For that matter neither am I, but I have training that has kept me reading primary literature for decades. Methods and results. Avoid the rest and news articles on topic unless the writer is someone you trust like the pius trust in the All Mighty. Those are opinions of opinions at best. Challenge but trust the experts. And make sure the expert really is one.
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pbs.org/newshour/amp/bb/problem-thinking-know-experts

    1. short bio

      I do not breed parrots – I’ll sell supplies and solve behavioral and indoor environment problems in captive birds.

      although most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level I like that because i can cruise through them quickly but thank for the complement.

      I also read google news so I supplement my viewswith another 30 – 50 news sources globally including Scientific American and https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/plants_animals/biology/ – daily

      I am an expert on captive bird care which is the reason 1/2 million people follow me in social media when talking about birds.

      I get from 20 – 200 google alerts on subjects related just to birds – every 24 hours

      So let me put this at an 8th grade level Clebia –

      I’m a Jew so I’m accountant by birthright and the numbers here would trigger an audit by anyone looking at them

      Let’s look at one sentence

      “If you read the USA Today story they claim that Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year.”

      So that’s a plus or minus 2.3 billion number – so much for accuracy.

      Let’s do some simple math.

      A mid range number would be 2.6 billion birds killed by feral cats in the US annually

      2.6 billion divided by 50 (states) = 13 billion birds killed in every one of our great 50 states annually.

      13 billion birds divided by 365 (days) = 35,616,438 birds are killed by feral cats EVERY 24 HOURS IN EACH AND EVERY OF THE 50 UNITED STATES including Alaska (cats have a short shelf life around bald eagles), Hawaii and Rhode Island

      You are clearly intelligent and well read – I travel between 2 states about 40 weekends a year.

      I motorcycle on country roads thousands of mile a year.

      35,616,438 birds are killed by feral cats?

      Where?

      Who’s doing the counting in Texas?

      The numbers make no sense thus are not trustworthy. meaning they are wrong

      a couple of factoids: although most articles in news papers are presented at an 8th grade level I like that because i can cruise through them quickly but thank for the complement.

      I also read google news so i supplement with another 30 – 50 news sources globall

      There is a reason 1/2 million people follow me in social media when i talk about birds.

      get from 20 – 200 google alerts on subject relate just to birds

      You want to tangle with me? Let’s tangle

      re: I’ve never hit a rodent with my car, but I’ve hit dozens of pigeons and doves.

      You blew your cover when you used the words “birds exhibit tonic immobility”

      there is not one of the approximately 10,400 species of birds that exhibits tonic immobility, that’s for species like snakes

      Birds display the remarkable phenomenon of unihemispheric slow-wave sleep: One half of their brain is awake, including an open eye, and the other half shows the electrical signatures of sleep.

      A sleeping bird knows when a car is coming or a hawk or a cat

      That said some birds rely upon a state of suspended animation, known as torpor. I promise you if a bird put’s itself in torpor it does so while out of harms way ie in a cave, on a barbed wire fence, electrical wires etc

      Frigate birds can sleep while flying in a migration – about 42 minute every 24 hours

      I live 3 miles from downtown Chicago, the epicenter of midwest pigeons. I’ve never hit a pigeon in 50 YEARS I’ve been driving chicago city streets – your statement is suspect.

  7. So cats can’t jump?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1067361/The-astonishing-JUMPING-cat-leaps-TWO-metres-high.html

    Add the simple observation they have claws and use them to boost off a raised structure and even your fat old tabby is capable of notably high jumps. Give the cat the streamlined body (cheeta-like build with over all light build but with a large chest, small waist and nice hip and thigh muscles) that a feral life selects for, and I’ll show you a jumping capable cat.

    Add the fact many birds are territorial during breeding season and you get this.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=He_4QP1OHic

    Check out the jump ending with a dead bird.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-zy3ub6Md6Y

    And that we shouldn’t forget stalking, or ambush and it’s clear cats are more than capable of what you claim they can’t do. Do you really read and investigate as much as you claim?
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6qR9DmHRwHQ

    Cats can’t catch wood peckers because of spiral decents that induces complete zip code relocation? Scroll down the list of photos below. Note the two different cats with spotted woodpeckers in their mouth. Apparently not all woodpeckers spiral, or spiraling does not always work.
    http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/cat-killing-bird.html

    If this article is typical of what you post, all should be made aware of your ability to confidently make a declaration based on made up, misunderstood or completely unresearched opinions.

  8. So cats can’t jump?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1067361/The-astonishing-JUMPING-cat-leaps-TWO-metres-high.html

    Add the simple observation they have claws and use them to boost off a raised structure and even your fat old tabby is capable of notably high jumps. Give the cat the streamlined body (cheeta-like build with over all light build but with a large chest, small waist and nice hip and thigh muscles) that a feral life selects for, and I’ll show you a jumping capable cat.

    Add the fact many birds are territorial during breeding season and you get this.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=He_4QP1OHic

    Check out the jump ending with a dead bird.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-zy3ub6Md6Y

    And that we shouldn’t forget stalking, or ambush and it’s clear cats are more than capable of what you claim they can’t do. Do you really read and investigate as much as you claim?
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6qR9DmHRwHQ

    Cats can’t catch wood peckers because of spiral decents that induces complete zip code relocation? Scroll down the list of photos below. Note the two different cats with spotted woodpeckers in their mouth. Apparently not all woodpeckers spiral, or spiraling does not always work.
    http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/cat-killing-bird.html

    If this article is typical of what you post, all should be made aware of your ability to confidently make a declaration based on made up, misunderstood or completely unresearched opinions.

  9. Your observations are right on. I live next to a city park that regularly gets irrigated, with a ton of trees filled with a ton of birds. Because of our warm climate so called feral, stray and unsocialized cats have an extended fertility season if not neutered. Lots and lots of cats are trapped and caught/dumped here along with other unwanted pets. I walk the park regularly and rarely if ever have I ever seen evidence of dead birds, especially dead birds killed by cats. I have lived on this property since 2009. Nor have I seen any cats stalking birds. Many of the cats sit on my border wall and just watch the birds from afar but make no attempt to stalk them. Too much effort. Birds fly, cats don’t. Most of those bird studies are questionable to me as they seem to come from or are financed by birders and bird groups/organizations. There is a lot of cat hatred from these people and their misinformation only emboldens other cat haters to do them harm.

    Where are all the studies about BIRDS KILLING BIRDS? I have seen birds flying from traffic medians only to get hit by cars on a regular basis. Birds flying into glass windows on high rises is common. People cruelly shooting pigeons and doves doesn’t seem to engender any negative reaction from the cat hating bird lovers.

    Roof rats and other rodents overpopulate without free roaming cats. The cats don’t even need to kill them. Cat spray alone will keep the rodents away. Rodents are smart too.

    Anyway, thanks so much for your article. We need more common sense to combat the misinformation. .

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