Preventing your Cat from Killing Birds in the Garden

One thing that is upsetting about cat behaviour is their natural hunting instinct and ability to kill the small birds that visit our gardens.

Fri 23 Mar 2018

By Judy

Preventing your Cat from Killing Birds in the Garden

One thing that is upsetting about cat behaviour is their natural hunting instinct and ability to kill the small birds that visit our gardens.So, how can you try to stop this happening?

Cats’ natural instinct to chase

One of the things people do like about cats is the way they can be persuaded to perform for us by chasing things quite readily. We find kittens quite delightful as they dash around after a piece of wool. An adult cat too is at its most animated and beautiful when it is chasing and stalking, ears forward, eyes wide and dark, its whole body beautifully poised and lithe. Your moggy is a highly skilled predator and it gives the same dedication to its art whether chasing string in the living room or going after sparrows in the garden.

Human history with feline kind

It is important to remember how the cat’s relationship with human beings developed initially. These clever creatures were kept and bred for their natural abilities to hunt. They required no training to do this, just quietly and stealthily getting on with the job. They have kept rats and mice out of granaries, barns, kitchens, pantries, warehouses and anywhere else where they needed down the centuries. A ‘good mouser’ was a prized possession. Cut back to the 21st century, we have little need of these skills today with our storage silos, fridges and freezers, but that prey instinct is still extremely strong in the cats that share our company now.

The double whammy

The problem is compounded by the fact that most owners let their cats out to roam as the animal pleases. If you let your Jack Russell or another hunting dog go free range as cats do, your dog would probably bring you home lots of squirrels, rabbits, rats, cats and pigeons etc. every day. Dogs, if kept properly, are handled in a very different way to cats. It is the combination of the strong feline prey instinct combined with the freedom to use it with impunity that makes cats a bit of a menace.

What can you do if you want to keep a cat but don’t want it to kill birds?

Keep a house cat! If you love cats but cannot stomach this side of their nature, then you may consider keeping a house cat that does not go out. This will involve you having to keep a litter tray on the go and providing a scratch post and some other sorts of entertainments too. Ensure that your housebound cat has a window where it can sit and watch the world going by. Breeds which are believed to be good house cats include Siamese (who love human company), Maine Coons, Persians and Ragdolls, but most breeds will happily adapt if they have never known the outside. It would be hard to do this with a fit and healthy cat that has already got used to going outside.

Keeping your cat indoors is likely to prolong its life as it is less likely to get into fights, catch feline illnesses, be poisoned, locked in places, attacked by dogs or foxes, or run over.
For cats that go outside
If your cat enjoys being outside, there are various products on the market that can alert birds to their presence – though not always quickly enough to stop the deed being done. On reading people’s opinions, it seems that that good old-fashioned bell or bells on your cat'ss collar are as effective as anything in this area, although if your cat is allowed the run of the house, you may be awoken by jangling at all hours. It is also important that the cat’s collar fits in such a way that it is not in danger of chocking or strangling the cat, but at the same time is not easy to remove.

Thinking about when you let your cat out

You may keep your cat in at twilight, through the night and not let it out until after early morning when birds, such as blackbirds, are catching worms in the soft moist ground. Cats’ hunting instincts are crepuscular ie they like twilight at each end of the day. Again it is best to start this routine when your cat is very young.

Ensure that your cat is well fed before it is allowed out. While many cats seem to hunt for ‘sport’ rather than for food, they may well be more lazy if outside on a full stomach.

Thinking about your garden

Think about your own garden and how it is laid out. What can you do to stop birds and cats meeting? Bird tables may be high enough and difficult enough for a cat not to be able to reach, but the food that inevitably drops to the ground makes those birds who feed off the ground very vulnerable to your cat. Try growing something thorny or placing cat repellent around the bird table to keep the cat away from it.

Wall spikes can be put on fence and wall tops and other high areas to stop cats from frequenting their favourite bird spotting places. These are not harmful to the cat but are too uncomfortable to sit on.

For those who want to keep cats out of their gardens some sort of caging or netting may be the solution, though it may make your garden look unsightly.

There are also electronic cat scarers that emit high frequency sounds which cats find intolerable. These are either mains or battery operated and you may wish to place these near nesting boxes or somewhere where you know birds are raising fledgelings. Remember to have a plentiful stock of batteries too.

Retaining a sense of proportion while realising there is a problem

You may be interested to read the RSPB’s article about cats and declining bird population, before you conclude that cats are the root of all evil. Magpies for example are prolific killers of baby songbirds. It is true however, that this problem does need addressing as the domestic cat population grows and natural bird habitats decline.

The importance of neutering our cats

As a society we can ensure that our cats are neutered so that there are not armies of feral cats in our gardens and countryside. Given that full female cats are, effectively, continually fertile, spaying is particularly crucial. The domestic cat is not a native of these islands and if there are too many of them, they are in danger of upsetting the natural balance of our native fauna.

There may come a time when regulatory laws are put in place about cat ownership, in the same way as owning a dog is becoming more and more regulated. Curfews and other such plans may well happen in the future.