Your cat (and ours) is a homicidal maniac: here’s how to stop your cat from killing birds and other wildlife too.
We love cats. They’re funny, quirky, adorable and adoring critters (except for our grumpy cat Charlie who hates us 50% of the time).
Our cat Bob is a soft, corpulent pile of cuteness who seems to think he’s a lap dog, as evidenced by the fact that he wants to spend most of his non-sleeping minutes on our laps getting his belly and neck rubbed.
Cats Are Adorable. They’re Also Killing Billions of Birds and Causing Wildlife Extinctions.
We’re not alone in our adoration of cats.
How many cats are there in the United States?
Estimates vary, but there are likely about 84 million “owned” cats in the U.S.. There are also 30-80 million “unowned” cats (strays, feral cats, farm cats, etc.). That’s a lot of cats.
How many birds to cats kill each year?
Cats–at least those that live or spend time outdoors–are highly efficient killers that are having a dramatic impact on wildlife populations.
According to Peter Marra, a conservation biologist and director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C., cats kill somewhere between 1 to 4 BILLION (yes, billion with a “b”) birds each year in the United States and have caused a minimum of 33 extinctions.
Why do cats bring you dead birds and other animals?
Cats bring you dead or injured animals because they love you and want you to learn to be a good hunter too. You’re part of their pride, so those “gifts” are their way of trying to teach you (incompetent human) how to kill animals as well as they do.
What role do birds play in an ecosystem?
As you might know, birds are absolutely critical to the health of functional ecosystems, serving as pollinators, insect control, fertilizers, and seed distributors, among many other important functions.
We love watching eastern phoebes nest over our back door each spring. The parents dart around our fruit trees and forest edge hunting insects with surgical precision.
We also love watching various species of songbirds nest in our fruit trees, and have experienced the joy of seeing their fledglings exit the nest for the first time.
Above video: A gray catbird fledgling prepares to take its first leap into the world after exiting its nest in one of our peach trees. Unfortunately, these songbirds (aka Passiformes), are not very well adapted to see cats, but are great at seeing bright colors, flying insects, etc. A still cat blends right into the background landscape, making these birds especially vulnerable to being killed.
“Invasive” cats and the extinction of native North American bird species
The wide-scale killing of wildlife by cats is a classic example of an introduced invasive species wreaking havoc on a new ecosystem. It’s akin to kudzu blanketing entire forest edges throughout the southeast.
Consider this: 1/3 of the 800 total native bird species in the US are currently endangered, threatened or in significant decline. We now know that cats are by far the biggest killer of birds.
Knowledge and responsibility
This means that we humans (especially cat owners) have a responsibility to immediately do two things:
- Acknowledge that there’s a serious problem that’s getting worse; and
- Try to figure out how to quickly mitigate the problem before more native species go extinct. (Figure out how to stop your cat from killing birds and other wildlife too).
Take Action: 5 Ways to Stop Your Cat From Killing Birds and Other Wildlife
Based on the information we’ve read and the steps we’ve taken (and found effective) here are five things you can do to stop your cat from killing birds and other wildlife:
Step 1. If at all possible, make your cat (or cats) an indoor cat.
Our cat Charlie has always been an indoor pet, and is so non-athletic that we’d be shocked if she could kill a moth. She certainly doesn’t pose a threat to wildlife, even if she were to venture outdoors.
However, Bob showed up to our house as an abandoned outdoor cat and is completely acclimated to outdoor living. There’s virtually no way for us to switch him to an indoor cat at this point. If we could, we would.
We’re expecting a crowded couch for movie night. #movienight #ducks #ducksofinstagram #welshharlequin A post shared by Tyrant Farms (@tyrantfarms) on
Image: Bob enjoying movie night indoors with Svetlana the Duck. Strangely enough, our cat is afraid of our ducks, even though he loves hunting smaller birds if given the opportunity.
This means we’ve had to figure out other ways to stop Bob, our outdoor cat, from killing birds.
Step 2. If you have an outdoor cat (even if it’s confined to your yard), put Birdsbesafe® cat collars on them.
Remember what we said up above about songbirds not being able to see cats? Well, Birdsbesafe collars take that science into account.
The colorful collars allow birds to more easily see your cats from a distance, and escape to safety.
Do Birdsbesafe collars really work?
An independent, two-season field study by Dr. Susan Willson at St. Lawrence University published in the Global Ecology and Conservation Journal (GECJ) in 2015 concluded that the Birdsbesafe collars reduced bird fatalities by a whopping 87%! If widely adopted by cat owners, these collars could prevent hundreds of millions (perhaps billions?) of bird deaths each year in the US alone.
Apparently, these collars don’t inhibit a cat’s ability to successfully hunt rodents, but they will inhibit their ability to hunt lizards, due to the respective structure of each animal’s eyes.
*Note: When birds are fledging in our yard, we do not let Bob out unsupervised, even though he’s wearing a Birdsbesafe collar. Yes, fledglings can see him better, but not being able to fly very well makes them especially vulnerable. Please do the same.
Do bells on cats protect birds?
Yes, bells do help stop cats from killing birds, but they don’t work as well as Birdsbesafe collars. A study in New Zealand found that bells reduced bird fatalities by about 41%. (Birdsbesafe collars reduced bird fatalities by 87%.)
Step 3. Spay, neuter, adopt.
Another way to stop your cat from killing birds? Help keep cat populations under control.
There’s absolutely no reason to let your cats make more cats unless you’re a breeder, so please get them spayed or neutered.
There’s also an extra reward for neutering your male cats. According to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA Hospitals), the benefits of neutering your male cats include:
- they’re less likely to range as far;
- they’re less aggressive;
- they’re less likely to fight, get injured, and have abscesses — or cause injuries to other cats;
- neutering eliminates spraying in 85% of males (we happen to be in the unlucky 15% on this one!).
Also, there are countless numbers of “unowned” kittens and cats who need homes. These can be found at your local animal shelters. If you must have a cat, adopt one and raise it as an indoor cat.
Step 4. If you have an outdoor cat, get an in-ground electric fence.
A few years back, Bob’s now-deceased brother Oscar (who was likely taken by coyotes) would travel the neighborhood in search of rodents to kill. Cats also kill as many as 20 billion mammals in the US each year: rabbits, moles, voles, mice, etc.
One day, Oscar showed up lethargic and covered in blood, which the vet later informed us was the result of two BB gun pellets. As it turns out, in our state, it’s legal to shoot other people’s pets who trespass on your property.
Between our two mostly outdoor cats’ potential to kill wildlife and be killed by bb gun-wielding neighborhood kids, coyotes, etc, we decided it was time to put an electric underground fence in our yard to keep our cats in our yard.
Hey, it’s way cheaper than vet bills!
Is it inhumane to deliver a mild shock to a cat to keep it in your yard? Perhaps so.
But we think it’s far more humane than allowing our cat to unnecessarily kill or maim hundreds/thousands of other animals in the forests and fields near our house.
The underground electric cat fence we use & recommend:
- PetSafe In-Ground Fence package – Comes with one adjustable cat collar, enough wire for 1/3 acre, white flags to train your cats on the location of the fence boundaries.
- collars – the fence package comes with one collar, but if you have multiple cats or need replacements, this is what you’ll need
- collar replacement batteries – 4-pack batteries last us 1 year per cat / 2 cats = 8 batteries/year
- surge protector – Our first fence was fried during a lightning storm, so we kicked ourselves for not getting a surge protector from the start. We remedied that when we replaced the fence, and the second one has made it through some serious lightning storms.
PetSafe provides loads of information on how to install the fence AND how to train your cats on it.
We didn’t bother digging a trench around our yard. Instead, we used garden staples to hold the wire firmly pressed down on the soil surface.
Since most of our yard is comprised of no-till, mulched veggie garden beds, installing the perimeter wire for our electric cat fence was super easy. In spots in our yard where there’s still turf grass lawn, we simply used the garden staples to tamp down the wire firmly to the soil.
Our lawn mower passes right over the tamped-down wires without a problem.
What about training our cats on the PetSafe in-ground fence?
PetSafe provides white perimeter flags that you stick into the ground where your electric fence wire is located. You only leave the flags up until you’ve completed training.
It took our cats about a week of training (2-3 “training sessions” per day) before they understood where the perimeter boundaries are. The collars give a warning “beep” that increases in frequency the closer they get to the line. Too close, and the cat gets a zap.
Electric Cat Fence Update 1/31/19:
Years after installation, our PetSafe in-ground fence still works great. The only time our remaining cat, Bob, “escapes” his yard is when his collar battery dies.
Our electric cat fence has saved us an enormous amount of stress (where’s the cat? dead? injured?). It’s stopped our cat from killing birds and wildlife. It’s probably also saved us far more in vet bills than the initial price of the electric cat fence.
And that’s a good investment, as far as we’re concerned.
Step 5. If you can’t adopt a stray cat and make it an indoor cat, take it to an animal shelter.
This is a controversial subject… It’s one of those ethical conundrums where there’s no absolutely perfect scenario. However, we do think there is a clear best answer…
A stray cat is absolutely guaranteed to kill birds and other wildlife, even if it’s got a nice person leaving food outside for it. That’s what cats do. They hunt, regardless of whether they’re hungry.
Ideally, you can bring the stray cat to a no-kill shelter. Ideally, the cat then finds a nice home where it can live out its days indoors happily murdering stuffed toys, sofa arms, and socks.
By getting a stray cat out of your ecosystem, you are guaranteed to stop the cat from killing countless numbers of birds, lizards, frogs, toads, rabbits, moles, and other native critters. These other animals have a right to exist, and a critical role to play in their/our ecosystems.
Still not convinced that you need to bring the stray cat to a shelter?
By bringing a stray cat to a no-kill shelter, you’re either saving or drastically extending the cat’s life. As it turns out, the average stray cat only lives for about two years, whereas an indoor cat will live for 12-18 years.
If you love cats and nature as much as we do, we hope you’ll take the steps necessary to stop your cat from killing birds and wildlife.
Given how much unnecessary damage is being done to other species as a result of our shared fondness for felines, we cat owners have a responsibility to make things better.
References & Recommended Reading: