It is estimated that domestic cats, whether they are loose pets, feral cats or strays, kill millions of wild birds each year. Fortunately, savvy backyard birders and pet owners can take easy steps to protect their birds without giving up their pets. By using several methods to control both the cats’ behavior and the birds’ habitat, injured and killed birds can be minimized.
Controlling Cat Behavior
It is virtually impossible to train cats, even the gentlest pets, to avoid the hunting instinct that can injure or kill wild birds. While some training methods may be effective, it is often easier to control a cat’s behavior to minimize interaction with wild birds and to prevent an overpopulation of feral cats that will prey on birds.
- Keep pet cats indoors at all times. If they must go outdoors, do not leave them unsupervised, and do not allow them outside during early morning or other peak bird feeding times. Outdoor enclosures are another option that can allow cats outdoors without endangering birds.
- Do not praise a cat that captures a bird. Positive reinforcement can encourage the animal to prey on additional wild birds.
- Keep cats’ claws trimmed to make it more difficult to climb trees or catch wild birds.
- Use collar bells to warn birds of a cat’s approach. While this is not always effective, it is one step that can be useful.
- Do not feed feral cats. The instinct to hunt is independent of hunger, and well-fed cats simply have more energy to attack birds. Instead, report feral cats to a local animal shelter for capture and population control.
- Spay or neuter pet cats to prevent adding to the pet population and potentially adding to feral cat colonies.
- Consider using humane traps to capture stray or feral cats to transport them to a local animal shelter. Animals at the shelter will also be spayed or neutered, which will help control the pet population.
- If possible, contribute financially to local animal shelters to ensure they can continue to help control stray pet populations.
Controlling Bird Habitat
Even backyards that are not home to domestic cats may be visited by feral animals that can kill the birds. Taking proper steps to create a safe bird habitat will minimize the dangers of cats.
- Keep birdfeeders and bird baths at least five feet from shrubbery and cover that can conceal a stalking predator. Ideally, feeders should be 10-12 feet from potentially dangerous cover.
- If possible, install a decorative or wire fence in front of shrubbery or hedges that may conceal predators to prevent them from attacking birds from these vantage points.
- Investigate yard fences and repair or block gaps that may be access points for wild or feral cats.
- Choose safe bird house designs with steep roofs and lacking perches to help deter predators. Keep nesting boxes at least eight feet off the ground to minimize the possibility of a cat jumping to the box.
- Check brush piles and shrubbery regularly for ground nests and fledgling birds that are most vulnerable to prowling cats.
- Avoid using low feeders or ground feeders that make it easier for cats to capture wild birds. Clean up spilled seed regularly to minimize ground feeding birds.
- Use plastic or metal poles to support feeders so cats’ claws cannot help them climb to the feeder. Baffles are another option to deter hunting cats.
Outdoor Cat © Gabby Canales