After years of being cat-less, a young female, pregnant, feral cat adopted us. We named her Zinnia. Our cat chasing, potentially cat killer cattle dog, Bandit at 17 was too old and stiff to be able to do anything about it. We kept two of the litter, Zoey and Zander. Now we have a cat family and I am smitten with kittens.
Initially, we were pleased that Zinnia reduced our rodent population, including the pesky ground squirrels that made their home underneath our house but as the kittens are getting older they are starting to kill birds. This is a problem. I love birds. I love feeding them and watching them about the feeders. Unwittingly I had created the perfect situation for bird predation- plenty of food and lots of cover for kitty hunters.
Desperate I have been researching the subject. According to Nature, free-ranging domestic cats, including feral cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually in the US making them the largest threat to wild birds in the United States and Canada. Combine that figure with the effects of climate change on birds, no wonder songbird populations are plummeting here and worldwide.
My cats were born and raised outside and want to be out a good part of the time. Here’s what I did and now suggest to mitigate the problem in the exterior habitat.
- Trim all over-hanging vegetation around feeders so the cats would have nowhere to hide and be in plain view of birds.
- Keep the porch clear of all birdseed scattered from the feeder.
- Moved the feeders up and away from areas where cats hangout.
- Put a tray directly beneath the feeder so seeds don’t collect on the ground. That’s where most birds are caught.
- Keep cats indoors during dawn and dusk- It turns out birds have a hard time seeing during these times making them very vulnerable to predation.
- Purchase a Birdsbesafe collars, a Catbib or make one. There are plans online. Apparently, songbirds can see bright colors and these bright, ruffly collars alerts birds to a cat’s presence.
- Buy or build a “catio” an outlide enclosure that’s designed for cats to have an outdoor but safely contained experience. You can build one or purchase one ready made.
After these changes #1-5, there were no more dead birds.
About the time the collars came, a flock of pine siskins moved in. They are not usual residents in this area. Zoey my energetic little female kitten started catching birds . On went her collar. No luck- she started catching more birds (pine siskins) than before. Oddly, the resident birds were not among them. Maybe these unusual birds from Canada are not savvy to house cats? Maybe these birds can’t see bright colors? Another downside to these little birds is that they are susceptible to salmonella. My kitten, Zander about the time I wrote this post came down with a serious infection that we are linking to when he caught and ate a couple of these birds
Back to the drawing board. The only solution now, until the pine siskin flock moves on, is to keep the cats in during most of the daylight hours and let them out at night. It’s better mousing time anyway.
I do think the steps I took would be effective for most cats. I just happen to have a very adept hunter. Sadly, according to my research, the only 100% effective cure for cat predation on birds is to keep them indoors.