Chances are if you live in a rural or even suburban environment, you live close to feral cats – skittish, roughened wild cats that may look like they need some human help, only to run away when approached. These cats are not tame and in no way way to be a house cat and are perfectly capable of living outside on their own, whether it damages some of the ecosystems or not.
If you find yourself surrounded by these untamed creatures, you have several options. One, you could leave them be and claim they are simply not your problem. This is a favored option for many but by no means a good one. There are over 70 million feral cats in the USA alone and scientists rightly blame the extinction of thirty-three species of bird on that huge number of cats: cats that hunt, kill and eat all sorts of birds, reptiles and rodents. This overpopulation could quickly lead to the extinction of other birds and perhaps even some prey mammals. Plus, who wants the reek of a feral cat spraying its territory underneath and around their carport? Yuck.
The second option would be to start feeding them. This is a better choice, but still not ideal as your third option, which we'll discuss in a moment. Feeding these cats at set times during the mornings or evenings and putting out a homemade shelter for them is a good idea – cats that are not hungry will pounce half-heartedly and are far more likely to end up empty-pawed after the hunt. But this also leads to several other problems: spreading diseases and overpopulation. Diseases like toxoplasmosis, parasites, and rabies can spread through a bite or scratch when a neighborhood pet mingles with a feral. In turn, diseases can be spread to the unsuspecting owners when they're animal interactions with them. The illnesses can cause death in some occasions, and grief follows after an animal's death due to the sicknesses. This means that the disease could have spread to your outdoor cats and possibly to you and your family!
Along with this, cats are like rabbits when it comes to reproducing and if none of the cats are sterilized, there will be kittens. This adds to the population, increasing the risk factor of all the previously mentioned points. As the cats' caretaker, you've also got to increase the food you put out for the animals daily because of the extra mouths to feed. You'd also be given the task of taming and adopting out the kittens – and only given a certain window of time to do this.
The last option of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). This involved trapping the cats using humane, catch-and-release traps before getting them sterilized and releasing them again. This eliminates almost all of the issues with having feral cats around your yard. Now that there are neutered, they will not be having any more kittens, they'll be vaccinated and dewormed so they will not spread parasites or diseases, and they will not feel the urge to spray their territory as much.
Do not be afraid to get your local shelter or the community involved! They can do most, if not all, of the trapping and neutering for a very low price or even for free, depending on where you live. They will also ear-tip (remove the top bit of the ear) the cat so that they will not be eaten and trapped again by other well-meaning people and rescue groups.
Now for the final issue: What about the birds? That's where you start feeding the cats. Keeping them fed once or twice a day ensures that they are well-fed. This boosts their immune system as well, making them less likely to contract possible sicknesses that are not eliminated by vaccines or deworming. And now that they are feeding daily, they are less likely to bother so much with hunting.
Feral cats are not bad. They help keep mice away from your barn, are interesting to watch and all they require is a bowl of food every day and space to be wild, free-roaming cats. All you have to do is give them that chance!