Joho the Blog » How many birds are killed by cats? How many people subscribe to the Boston Globe online?

How many birds are killed by cats? How many people subscribe to the Boston Globe online?

How many birds do domestic cats in the United States kill every year? You win if your answer is within an order of magnitude in either direction. However, you don’t actually win anything.

The answer comes from the journal Nature Communications as reported here

To reveal the answer, select the black box. (This assumes you don’t have black set as your selection color.)

“We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually.”

And now for extra credit, within an order of magnitude, how many people subscribe to the online version of the Boston Globe? Hint: It costs $3.99/week. Hint: Greater Boston’s population is about 4M. Hint: This quarter, online subscriptions rose 8%. (The answer comes from an article at BizOnline.)


By the way, I occasionally like to acknowledge that the “order of magnitude puzzle” was invented by my famous friend Paul English.

9 Responses to “How many birds are killed by cats? How many people subscribe to the Boston Globe online?”

  1. ~ $5,000,000 yearly – from online subs only – not shabby at all.

  2. Are you kidding? Those are Fermi Problems

  3. Are you kidding? They’re not. They’re like them, but the aim is simply to get within an order of magnitude.

    But even if they were exactly the same, someone had the same idea as someone else. Thanks for the info, but why the indignation?

  4. Well, Emil, the Globe last year took in $183M in ad revenue and and $155M in subscriptions overall [1], which means online subs were about 3% of their subscription revs and about 1.5% of their overall revenues. Seems pretty low to me.


  5. Maybe that is one reason why the NY Times is selling the Globe? At quite a loss, NPR said.

    I had read the cat item (in the NYT) so that doesn’t count. I guessed 40,000 online subscribers to the Globe. How many does the NY Times have?-we get it as part of the home delivery service.

  6. Hi David! Non-native speaker here, I’m sorry if the expression seemed aggressive. Still, you’re right, I felt some indignation. Nothing serious, just “something wrong on the internet”, from someone I very much enjoy reading. Why the indignation? Good question.

    Trying to reproduce what must have happened last night, it must have gone something like this: I clicked on the link, to see who is the person that had an idea which in my context always has been attributed to someone else. Now I see the Wikipedia page. It seems to be a young silicon valley entrepreneur, probably enormously privileged, just got humongously wealthy from flipping his company (remember, this is all in my head, I am reproducing my thought process, I realize this is not who your friend Paul is). Oh no, I must have thought, again the Matthew / Merton effect, the rich getting richer. Justice must be done!

    So, sorry. I should have put myself in your position, in which you simply, graciously, acknowledging a friend from who you got the idea. You did a good thing! Why the indignation, indeed.

    Thanks for the opportunity thinking a bit about how subtle differences in contexts and worldviews change the interpretation of even the simplest facts. I’ll try harder to always try and to imagine the perspective of the other side.

    And, don’t drink and comment, off course!

  7. Ewout, what a wonderful response! I appreciate your frankness and good humor. And, yes indeed, it’s so hard to read emotions and intentions through brief text across multiple languages, cultures, and milieus.

    And one might well ask why I bristled at how I took your response. I’m not sure. Perhaps a bit of embarrassment on my part at not knowing that such questions — more and more common in job interviews, at least in the US — have a name, and the name is Fermi’s no less! In larger part it’s out of defensiveness for my friend, who I have known long enough (about 25 yrs) to know that he is not a person who takes credit for others’ work.

    So, I apologize for my own snippy response. And thanks again for your good-humored response.

  8. So what is the total population of birds on which these cats prey?

  9. “John Trapp rounds up the literature here and figures the best guess is around 10 billion birds in spring and 20 billion in the fall. Meanwhile, the aptly named book, “How Many Birds Are There?” estimates 200-400 billion birds for the entire world, which is pretty consistent with 10-20 billion in the U.S.”

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