There is no more beautiful and graceful pet than a cat but it cannot be denied that they kill birds and not necessarily just in their owner’s garden.
Cats are hunters and it is almost impossible to train them, something that bird lovers, especially those who go out to make their gardens bird friendly, can find upsetting. You can’t change nature, for even a well fed cat will always have an instinct to stalk its prey, but there are quite a few measures avid twitchers – and anyone else - can make to protect birdlife.
How cat owners can protect birds
If you are the cat’s owner and want to protect birds in your own garden as well as keeping peace with the neighbours, the easiest and most sensible measure to take is to put a bell on your cat’s collar. That will alert birds to its presence and according to some research, cats with bells kill 41 per cent fewer birds than cats without.
There are also some sophisticated new collars with sonic devices to warn the birds and they are more successful still, reducing the kill by 51 per cent. However, whatever type of collar you use, you must make sure it has a quick release mechanism to allow the cat to free itself if it gets stuck.
Traditionally cat owners have put their pets outside for the night: this is the worst thing you can do for the bird population as it is when cats are most prone to hunt. Bring them inside before the sun goes down and keep them inside until it is well and truly up.
How gardeners can discourage cats
If you are not the cat owner and want to discourage them from visiting, put half full plastic bottles in the border of a garden. This is something that game keepers do as the light reflection is supposed to deter other animals.
If you know what direction a cat is coming from and want to protect a specific area, build a chicken wire fence that leans in the direction the cat is coming from. It won’t be able to climb over it. They don’t like sprinklers, either, and there are some cat deterrents that will emit a short but strong jet of water when they detect cat movement. There are also some very effective scent deterrents, such as citronella.
Birds nests or bird boxes can be a problem: for obvious reasons cats will try to get at their occupants. There are several ways to discourage them: you can buy spiked belts which are specifically designed to stop cats from climbing trees and can be adapted to the size of any foliage you have in your garden. Make sure bird baths and bird feeders are at least five feet away from any shrubbery so that the cat can’t lie in wait and make sure nesting boxes are a good eight feet from the ground. The cat can’t jump that high.
If you have a bird house, choose a design that is specifically made to protect birds: some have very steep roofs to discourage cats and no perching spots, which could make the bird vulnerable. Cats don’t like prickly shrubs such as gorse, hawthorn or blackthorn so you can position those around feeders or in places where cats might want to hide. Hawthorn or pyracantha will also provide fruit for the birds over the autumn and winter.
The RSPB endorses something called CATwatch, a cat deterrent that works by emitting a high pitched sound which cats don’t like but which is inaudible to humans and doesn’t disturb other garden animals such as hedgehogs. It is said to reduce cat visits by 33 per cent. Visit RSPB for more details. There are other deterrents on the market aimed both at cats and a wider array of animals, such as foxes.
But whatever you do, remember nature is nature – wild in tooth and claw.