Birding with Cats

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Have outdoor cats, but love birding? You and I are in the same boat. Sylvester the cat and Tweety the bird aren’t just a cliche in the animal world.

Cats can kill between 1.4- 3.7 Billion birds annually in the continental US

This number tells us that bird deaths due to cats is a serious issue. It’s actually at the top of the list for the reason of a bird’s death.

I love cats and 4 live here at my own home, 2 of them stay outdoors. While we can love cats, it should be realized that cat over population is an issue across the world. Cats, especially feral cat colonies, are taking a great toll on our bird populations.

If you have outdoor cats, I’m sure at some point you have found something dead. If not, you may think that your cat is not a hunter, but scientists have proven that cats do much more than we think.

The Wildlife Management Institute underwent a study in Georgia and found that house cats let outdoors were on average 30% successful in capturing and killing prey, most which were birds. This is equivalent to one kill per 17 hours of outdoor time. The study also found that only about 25% of the killed prey were brought back home, which created a large underestimation by the cat’s owners of how many birds were being be killed by their cat/s.

But if you have cats and love birding, there are some things you can do to prevent cats from getting birds. Most of these tips are geared toward keeping birds off the ground where they are an easier catch for cats.

#1. Type of Bird Feeder

There are some systems where you can attach a seed catching tray underneath a pole mounted hopper bird feeder, such as this on Wild Birds Unlimited. They also make trays for tube feeders. This catches a lot of bird seed from falling to the ground. Many birds prefer to eat off the ground, or they will if the feeders are full with other birds. This tray allows some birds to feed from the tray instead of feeding on the ground, where lurking cats await.

You can also just get just tray bird feeders that helps keep bird seed tidier.

In other areas of the yard, we put up suet feeders, which creates no mess beneath the feeder.

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#2. Location

We place our feeders where they hang over open lawn, not over or near plants. This allows ground feeding birds to clearly see what’s going on around them, making them more likely to see a cat approaching.

We placed our bird feeders far away from where the cats mostly stay, which is on our gazebo.

We also put some see through wire fencing underneath the feeder, which allows birds feeding off the ground to be inside a secure area where the cats can’t easily get in.

#3. Hanging Feeders

Make sure feeders are placed high off the ground. We attach our bird feeders on a pole system, or hanging from a tree hook, a tall shepard’s hook, or a hook off a building. This prevents any cats that will climb into trees from hanging out above the feeder in the tree.

#4. Type Of Food

We use bird seed blends where birds love to eat all the food in the blend. Some bird seed creates a mess on the ground from shells, etc. Milo, is a filler that no bird really likes to eat, but it’s common in cheaper bird seed. This also creates a mess below the feeder since birds will throw it out as they come across it. Then other birds will go to the ground to inspect the food on the ground.

#5. Hanging Bird Bath

We had a ground bird bath for a while, but found one of the cats hanging out all the time by it and hunting. We suppose one bird we found was gotten this way. We now have a plastic hanging bird bath hanging from a tall shepards hook. It’s actually more practical for us to take care of than the ground bird bath. Here is also a copper hanging bird bath.


#6. Cat Collars

There are some cat collars being made that look like a big bright scrunchie. It also gives you a good laugh because it makes your cat look like a clown. These are actually being proven to help save birds, because the birds can easily see the bright collar on the cat. Some collars have bells on them which may help birds hear something approaching. At least opt for brightly colored or patterned collars to make them more visible.

#7. Keep Cats Indoors More

Trust me, I know cats can throw a fit if they want outside and you won’t let them out. However, some cats can be retrained to stay indoors more. If you’re getting a new cat, make it an indoor cat. They’re also less susceptible to diseases and fighting with other cats.

Cats can be very active at night, so maybe at least bring them in at that time. This may prevent up to 50% of bird deaths. One of our cats, we only let out while we’re working outside for the day.

#8. Donate or Volunteer to TNR Programs To Keep Feral Cat Populations in Check

TNR stands for ‘trap, neuter, return’.

There are many wonderful people out there that take care of feral cat populations by getting them spayed and neutered. It’s a great way to reduce feral cat populations. It also helps the feral cat colonies by preventing bad situations with too many cats, which may spread diseases and emaciation due to lack of food. Your donation can go a long way in helping these programs.

To find a local TNR Program, search through the Humane Society of the US Website

#9. Get Your, or Homeless, Cats Spayed or Neutered

#10. Omit Bird Houses or Carefully Place Them

If you have cats, you may want to opt out of having bird houses in your yard where fledglings will grow up and learn to fly while in your yard.

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