For those who wish to create a beautiful bird haven in their backyard, there are several important things to consider for the health of the birds. Since we like birds, we want to keep them as safe as we can.
First and foremost, if you have a cat, it is not a good idea to let your cat roam freely. If you attract birds to your yard and let Fluffy out, you are not helping the birds! If there are birds in your area, cats are a problem. Until I did some research on the topic, I had no idea that death-by-cat is one of the major causes of songbird death! You might say “Oh well, Fluffy only catches a few birds each summer, so it’s not a big deal.”
Problem #1 – Kill the Parent Bird, Kill the Offspring
Well it’s not a big deal for Fluffy, she likes a bit of fun hunting things. But the season during which she will be catching most of them is nesting season. If a parent bird is killed, the cat has not just killed one bird. She has most likely caused the death of all the offspring that pair would raise that season. If they make only one nest, that might be three to five young, depending on the type of bird. If the dead parent is a species that nests twice or even three times, such as the Song Sparrow is known to do, then your cat is responsible for wiping out up to 12 young birds which would have contributed to the adult population.
I will add that one parent bird cannot raise a nest of young alone. If one of the pair is killed, it’s game over,so to speak. If there are nestlings, they won’t survive. If there are eggs, they have no future.
Problem #2 – Birds Already Face A Host of Problems Besides Cats
If songbirds were not already in serious rapid decline, cats would not be as serious an issue. But as things currently stand with global pressures of climate change, pollution, obstructions to migration and loss of habitat of breeding and wintering grounds, the added pressure of cats is one more nail in the bird coffin. And it is a large nail.
One backyard, one Fluffy, and several dead adult songbirds in nesting season could mean up to fifty wiped out potential adults come Autumn migration. Which means next season those who have not been raised will not have any babies of their own. A generation is wiped out for your little area. Multiply Fluffy by all the backyards in your town and all the backyards in your county, your state or province, your country, your continent…and you see the scope of the problem.
How Many Birds Are Killed by Cats in the U.S.?
The current estimates of death-by-cat are simply staggering! Up to 3.7 billion—that’s BILLION—birds in the continental U.S. each year—that’s EACH YEAR—alone. Not counting the rest of the world! That is individual birds. Not the young who won’t be hatched and grow to adulthood, because one parent was killed. This is just talking actual deaths.
Now, we can’t blame it all on Fluffy. Some are Fluffy’s relatives, cats gone wild, living near towns, garbage dumps, back alleys. These feral cats kill even more than the Fluffys of the world, as they live by their wits, and have to eat wild things to survive.
Fluffy, hopefully, does not need to eat wild things. She will be fed, and usually fed well, by her loving people. Loving people who have no idea what Fluffy is doing to the natives when she’s out patrolling the backyard.
Solution #1 – Limit your Cat’s Access to the Great Outdoors
I’m not against cats! I have two cats. I love them. But I don’t let them outside to kill the birds. Because I live on a farm, I value their abilities to catch rats which can be a pest on a farm. Rats roam at night mostly, so on certain nights I let the cats out to do damage to the rat population. Last time I checked, rats are not in danger. And rat poison can be harmful to wildlife, even those who consume the poison via a dead rat. So I don’t recommend using that. I’d rather let my cat out now and then, at night, when the birds are not out.
Even if you are careful about your cat, and keep her indoors most of the time, or all of the time, there will still be other cats—from your neighbour’s, or feral cats—who want to come on your property and feast from your beautiful bird haven! What can be done about those?
Solution #2 – Watch for and Report Strays
A stray cat should be reported and probably trapped in a live trap and taken to an animal shelter. They will probably do that for you. If the cat is lost she may be linked up with her people this way. You can put out the word about the cat you have seen and put up posters. Maybe it belongs to someone nearby.
There are also Trap-Neuter-Release programs which exist to cut down on the reproduction of feral cats without killing them. You can check to see if there is one in your area and support their efforts. Yes, these cats will kill birds, and some people just want to kill them outright. However, at least by the TNR approach they will not keep increasing in numbers, and will eventually die out as a colony if no new breeding animals take up residence.
Solution #3 – Get a Dog
For your own property, what can you do to keep stray cats out?
To discourage trespassing toms or female felines, a dog’s presence is helpful. Dogs are also not very good at catching birds, so they can be free in the yard if you have a safe fenced area.
But apart from that, here are several suggestions. You can try some or all of them, and see how effective they are. I would encourage you to do whatever you can to keep the cats away if you are trying to attract birds. We don’t want to lure them to their deaths!
Solution #4 – Sprays and Plant-based Deterrents
Make a garden spray of cayenne pepper, citrus peels, essential oils such as eucalyptus and anise, and mustard powder, and use it regularly. It might even help keep aphids away from your roses! You can chowder it all up in the blender and whisk it around, or strain it and use a sprayer.
Cats don’t like onions and garlic either. Chop these and scatter. Tea leaves might also repel them.
Solution #5 – Remove Alluring Cat Toilets from Your Yard eg. Gardens
Cats like to dig up gardens. Ask any gardener frustrated by the felines strolling through and leaving their droppings. Parents aren’t keen on finding cat poop in their toddler’s sandbox either. So if you have soft dirt flower beds and the like, you can mulch them with a hard material which cats find rough on the paws. Pine cone mulch, pebbles and stones, clippings from thorny bushes such as hawthorne or roses will send cats looking for another loo.
Solution #6 – Barrier Methods
Planting rose bushes or brambles can deter cats. To keep them out of an area, you may need to fence your yard. Chain link fences can keep cats out, but they will need to be six feet high.
Solution #7 – Cats Hate Water
Since they really don’t like water, squirting a trespassing cat with the garden hose might work. Especially if the cat is regular in habit, and you can time her trot through the shrubs. Getting a good splash several days in a row will be a stronger deterrent than just a one-time soak. But be kind, don’t spray a cat in very cold weather!
Similarly, a motion-activated sprinkler can really help keep cats away. Place it in an area where you know they like to travel.
Bonus – Mark the Territory Yourself!
I’ve saved the best for last. You can mark the territory by urinating in the garden. Yes, and not just in one place. I realize this is not for everyone, and in some areas it will not be the best solution! Collect urine in a container and pour it around the base of plants and the yard’s perimeter on a regular basis. Cats can smell it even if you can’t, and it means “Keep Out” in cat dialect.
You can also use lion’s manure—yes, that’s right—and you don’t need to go to Africa to find it; you can buy it!
One brand is charmingly called Silent Roar, and is sold for this very purpose; apparently it will keep felines of all sizes out of your yard. Cats, like dogs, take in a lot of information by scent, and a scattering of dung from the King of Beasts will scare the crap out of Fluffy and her next-door friends. They will stay away for fear of bumping into a zoo escapee in your backyard.
I encourage everyone to create a bird-friendly habitat on their property, no matter how big or small the area. But, please, do what you can to make it safe for birds to spend time there!