Unfortunately, our sweet cuddly cat (and yours) is a homicidal maniac when it comes to wildlife. Here’s how we stopped our cat from killing birds and other wildlife — and how you can, too.
We love cats. They’re funny, quirky, adorable, and affectionate critters.
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.
Some shocking cat statistics
Yes, cats are adorable. Unfortunately, they’re also killing billions of birds and causing wildlife extinctions. Here are some cat statistics that may surprise you:
How many cats are there in the United States?
Estimates vary, but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are about 60 million PET cats in the United States. There are also 30-80 million “unowned” cats (strays, feral cats, farm cats, etc.).
That’s a lot of cats!
How many birds do cats kill each year?
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 birds each year in the United States and have caused a minimum of 33 extinctions.
It’s hard for us to get our heads around numbers this large and disheartening.
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.
It’s also important to note that your fully or partly outdoor cat only brings you a very small portion of the maimed or dead animals they kill. So what you see is not necessarily representative of the full toll they’re taking on the wildlife around you.
The importance of wild birds
As you might know, birds are absolutely critical to the health of functional ecosystems. Birds serve as pollinators, insect control, fertilizers, and seed distributors, among many other important functions.
As one of countless examples: we love watching Eastern phoebes nest under our back porch each spring. These little flycatchers dart around our fruit trees and forest edges hunting insects with mind-boggling acrobatic grace and surgical precision.
We also love watching various species of songbirds nest in our fruit trees and shrubs.
“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 landscapes here in the Southeast.
Consider this: 1/3 of the 800 total native bird species in the US are currently endangered, threatened, or in significant decline. And we now know that cats are by far the biggest killer of birds.
Knowledge comes with responsibility
This information means that we humans (especially cat owners) have a responsibility to do two things:
1. Acknowledge that there’s a serious problem that’s getting worse; and
2. Try to figure out how to stop our cats from killing birds and other wildlife.
5 ways to stop your cat from killing birds and other wildlife
After lots of research plus trial and error, we’ve managed to stop our cat’s wildlife killing spree. Below is a list of five proven steps 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, our other cat Bob showed up to our house as an abandoned outdoor cat and is completely acclimated to outdoor living. He’s also an incredibly adept hunter.
Given his background, there’s virtually no way for us to switch Bob to an indoor cat at this point. If we could, we would.
This means we’ve had to figure out other ways to stop Bob, our outdoor cat, from killing birds and other wildlife…
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.
Their colorful collars allow birds to more easily see your cats from a distance and escape to safety in time.
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%!
This means that — 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. However, they will inhibit their ability to hunt lizards, due to the respective structure of each animal’s eyes.
Good news for gardeners and farmers!
*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%. By comparison, 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;
- neutering eliminates spraying in 85% of males (we happen to be in the unlucky 15% on this one!);
- they’re less aggressive;
- they’re less likely to fight, get injured, and have abscesses — or cause injuries to other cats.
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 native animal species in the forests and fields near our house.
The underground electric cat fence and accessories we use & recommend:
1. PetSafe In-Ground Fence package – This product comes with one adjustable cat collar (you can get more if you have more cats), enough wire for 1/3 acre, and white flags to help train your cat(s) on the location of the fence boundaries.
Other items you may want to consider getting:
- extra boundary wire if your yard is more than 1/3 acre, and
- ground staples to hold the wire in place beneath the soil surface.
2. Collars – The fence package comes with one cat collar, but if you have multiple cats or need replacements, this is what you’ll need.
3. Collar replacement batteries – 4-pack batteries last us 1 year per cat. So 2 cats = 8 batteries/year.
4. 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. It’s surprisingly easy and simple to set up.
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 garden staples to tamp down the wire firmly to the soil.
Our lawn mower passes right over the tamped-down wires without a problem.
Is it hard to train 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 kitty 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 results: years after initial installation?
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 they play a critical role 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: