Feral cats kill thousands of backyard birds every year, but backyard birders have many techniques to discourage feral, stray and lost cats from invading the property they've made friendly for birds.
Problems With Feral Cats
Feral cats not only kill birds, but they also cause other problems when they become accustomed to visiting the same backyards. Carefully cultivated flower beds can become open litter boxes, garden sheds can become breeding grounds for litters of feral cats and any trees, fences or other structures can be territorial markers for spraying males. For many backyard birders, however, it is the threat of constantly hunting feral cats killing birds and scaring birds away from feeders and bird houses that makes them want to discourage cats from visiting the yard.
Discouraging Feral Cats
There are a number of ways that can help keep feral cats away from your yard:
- Remove Food: Feral cats will stay in any area where food is plentiful. Avoid feeding your own pets outdoors and cover trash scraps securely to keep from giving unwelcome cats an easy meal.
- Close Shelter: All wild animals need a place to sleep and to raise their young. Board up holes in old sheds or garages, under decks or porches, or in simple shelters such as woodpiles or window wells to avoid providing this shelter to feral cats.
- Make Life Uncomfortable: Cats are well known for their love of relaxation, and making a yard uncomfortable can discourage feral visitors. Fill flower beds and areas where cats lounge with sharp pebbles, eggshell shards or a layer of chicken wire so the ground will be uncomfortable.
- Remove Temptations: Unaltered males will be attracted to any female cats in heat. Pet owners who spay their female cats are less likely to attract feral males.
- Use Repellants: Cats have very keen senses of small and taste, and commercial repellants are available to discourage unwanted cats. Natural repellents to sprinkle on flowerbeds or gardens include moth balls, ammonia soaked rags, ground mustard, cayenne pepper and citrus-based sprays.
- Scare the Cats: Old-fashioned scare tactics can discourage cats from visiting a yard regularly. Ultrasonic sirens, motion-activated sprinklers and motion-activated lights can all be useful. If cats are jumping on a fence in one area, a sensitive bell or can of beans or marbles that will fall when the cats jump can be effective to scare them.
- Try Humane Traps: Spring-loaded humane traps can be effective for catching feral cats that can then be turned over to wildlife control officials or trap-neuter-release programs. Place traps in areas where the cats frequent and bait them with appropriate food or appetizing scents.
- Spread the Word: A feral cat's territory extends well beyond a single yard. Talk to neighbors about the problems with feral cats and encourage them to take similar steps to discourage unwelcome cats in their yard. Neighborhoods that work together generally have fewer problems with feral cats.
More Tips for Keeping Feral Cats Out of Your Yard
It is important to use several techniques to keep feral cats out of your yard. While one tactic may be effective against one cat, using several techniques can be more effective not only to discourage one cat, but to keep other stray and feral cats from moving in when the first cat has moved out. There are certain techniques that should never be used against feral cats, however:
- Inhumane Traps
- Aggressive Dogs
These techniques are difficult to control, and using them against feral cats can violate local laws. Furthermore, because these methods are unpredictable, using them can have negative consequences against unintentional targets such as neighbors' outdoor pets, the backyard birds themselves or other wildlife.
To make discouraging feral cats as effective as possible, it is always wise to take steps to protect backyard birds from cats by choosing safe bird houses and feeders, avoiding ground feeding and providing safe cover birds to shelter. By protecting the birds and using different tactics to discourage any feral or stray cats, it is possible to keep feral cats out of your yard and ensure your backyard birds are safe.
Photo – Feral Cats © Sara Golemon