How to Prevent Your Outdoor Cat from Killing Birds

The only sure way to prevent pet cats from killing birds is to keep them inside or to walk them outdoors on a leash. These methods are encouraged by veterinarians, animal welfare groups and environmentalists. Yet, less than half of the estimated 73 million cats in the United States live indoors according to the National Wildlife Federation. Some owners feel that it’s not natural for cats to be kept inside while others believe their cat would be unhappy if not allowed to explore the outdoors.

Whatever the reason, predation by outdoor cats on birds and other wildlife is a real and legitimate concern according to the HSUS. Experts say that a cat’s prey drive is so strong that even well-fed cats may naturally enjoy hunting birds or other small mammals.

Animal Welfare Groups Work Together to Help Birds and Cats

At the Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center, nearly 40 percent of the birds brought in for treatment are either caught by cats, orphaned by cats or are fledglings “rescued” by the public to prevent imminent cat predation. Over the past 20 years, the Center has treated more than 20,000 cat-caught animals, representing more than 100 local species.

The Audubon Society of Portland and the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon along with other area animal shelters have joined together to form the Cats Safe at Home program. The program encourages local residents not to allow their pet cats to roam free. The mission of the campaign is to bring the community together toward a safer and healthier environment for both cats and wildlife. Local residents who are hesitant about confining their cats are encouraged to install catios (cat patios). These enclosures are typically decorated with old tree stumps and perches for climbing and scratching, planters with cat-friendly turf and other vegetation, tarps to provide shade and protection from the elements and a ladder for access to and from the house.

Protecting Birds at Backyard Feeders

Experts at Wild Birds Unlimited encourage homeowners who want to set up bird feeders to bring their cats indoors. Feeders can be set up near a window so cats can enjoy watching the birds without attacking them. Here are other tips for protecting birds in your yard and at your feeder:

  • If you have a feeder and an indoor/outdoor cat, try letting him or her out between noon and 4 p.m. when bird activity at the feeders is the lowest.
  • If a neighbor’s cat is stalking birds at your feeder, try working out a compromise to help protect the birds.
  • Set up some barriers around your feeders such as a chain-link fence.
  • Keep feeding stations 20 feet or more away from brush piles or bushes where cats can hide.
  • Try to keep bird seed off of the ground so as to discourage ground feeders who may be easy prey for your cat.
  • Find out when common birds in your yard may be fledging and try to confine your cat more than usual at those times. Fledglings are just learning to fly and are easy prey for cats.

Products Designed to Deter Cats from Killing Birds

A number of products have been designed by companies and individuals to help deter outdoor cats from killing birds. They include collars with bells that alert birds to a cat’s presence. A product called CatAlert that produces a beeping sound every seven seconds making it difficult for a cat to go undetected by its prey. The CatBib, designed by Cat Goods Inc., is a hanging colored bib that is attached to a cat’s collar. The bib offers a visual cue that the cat is on the prowl and serves as a physical barrier to the cat’s paw when he attempts to attack his prey.

In 2015 the Global Ecology and Conservation Journal published the results of a study on Birdsbesafe, a brightly-colored cat collar cover. The two-season field study used a research team at the University and cat-owning volunteers from the community and concluded that the Birdsbesafe collar cover reduced bird fatalities by 87 percent.

BirdsbesafecollarA study that published in the Global Ecology and Conservation Journal concluded that Birdsbesafe cat collar covers reduced bird fatalities by 85 percent.Image credit: Harry Duns via Birdsbesafe

The collar is the creation of Nancy Brennan, a bird watcher, and bird lover, who was heartbroken every time her husband’s cat, George, came through the cat door with a bird. It was when George brought home a ruffed grouse that Brennan decided it was time to stop the killing.

“For four years George had been going out at will through his cat door,” said Brennan, a Vermont resident. “I felt he would have been inconsolable if we forced him to stay inside.”

Having read that song birds see bright colors Brennan decided to sew a colorful cotton tube of brightly-colored fabric to cover George’s breakaway collar hoping it would make it easier for the birds to see him when he was stalking. It worked!

“George didn’t catch any birds the first day, week or month,” Brennan said. “He had always brought his prey through the cat door to us, so the difference was dramatic.”

George didn’t seem to mind wearing the collar cover or the change in his lifestyle. He even started sleeping in at dawn, instead of hunting. In the next 18 months, over two summers, George caught maybe two or three birds, Brennan said. She launched Birdsbesafe in 2009 and after the study published her sales really began to pick up. She is excited to hear success stories from her customers throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“I didn’t start this business because I want people to leave their cats out,” Brennan said. “I would love if everyone kept their cats inside. I see this as a positive step towards ending a problem that’s larger than I personally know how to solve.”

Related:
9 Human Activities That Threaten Birds
The Pros and Cons of Backyard Bird Feeders
Why You Should Massage Your Cat

Photo credit: Thinkstock

84 comments

Ellie M
Ellie M2 days ago

my indoor cat wants to be an outdoor cat

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Aaron F
Aaron F4 days ago

Time to dispense with unfounded myths! Should we put bells and collars on the real threat to birds...humans?

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo R8 days ago

Belll collars work great, ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo R8 days ago

Bell collars work great, ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo R8 days ago

Bell collars work great, ty

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Elaine W
Elaine W12 days ago

Tried to tell myself the little bird pictured was a photo model and a good actor. ;(

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Mark H
Mark H18 days ago

Can we see our wakes? We can try.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE22 days ago

Unfortunately is is nature and on the odd occasion that my cats kill a bird, I bite my tongue and leave them be.

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Susanne Koenig
Susanne Koenig24 days ago

Most cat owners argument against any Kind of collars, that they might get stuck or strangled up in the bushes wearing it.

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Elaine W
Elaine W24 days ago

Hopefully these ideas will save some tweety bird lives.

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