Cat Got Your Bird

At ENN, we are a big fan of our feathered friends (Big Bird and Tweety included). Last year we posted 2 articles on our blog discussing strategies for feeding and interacting with the birds you might find in your back yard. In this article I plan to focus on the wild bird’s greatest nemesis, and one of human’s closest friends, the domestic outdoor cat .

According to the Humane Society, cats can be found in thirty-three percent of households in the United States. This is a lot of cats- approximately 86.4 million.  Of course not all of these cats are allowed outside, or pose a threat to wild birds, but many of them do. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats, half by pets and half by feral animals.

 A recent study in the UK by Dr Rebecca Thomas of the University of Reading, looked into the relationship between birds and cats, to better understand the threat cats pose to wild birds.

Dr. Thomas found that hunting behaviors vary among cats. In a survey of pet owners, 22 percent of owners said that their cats never brought them dead animals and only 20 percent of cats brought back greater than four dead animals a year.  The study found an average of 18.3 kills per cat, meaning, a small minority of cats is responsible for a majority of the killings

Thomas is most worried about the effect of cats in urban environments. ‘The density of cats in urban environments is the biggest issue,’ Thomas says. ‘Even if a cat isn’t killing often, there are so many of them in a small area that they can have a very serious impact. Owners might think their cats only catch two or three birds a year and that won’t make any difference, but they need to understand all the other pressures that wildlife is under from habitat loss and environmental change.’

So what can we do to protect the birds?

Please keep your cats indoors.  Banning cats from the outdoors is an efficient way to “keep cats off the streets”.  The practice of sterilizing outdoor cats is extremely useful in controlling stray cat populations in urban areas.  A less intrusive option could be requiring outdoor cats to wear bells. Belles can reduce hunting effectiveness (though some cats learn to compensate for the bells).

 I know from experience that public ordinances relating to animals are hard to maintain, so it is up to individual cat owners to take some responsibility for their pet’s potential behaviors. 

Cat with Bird via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 at 15:30
  • Eric
    Jan 16th, 2013 at 23:40 | #1

    Sorry, my cats will always be allowed outside. They mainly catch voles where I live, but can admittedly be found munching feathers sometimes. The voles love to chew up the roots of our fruit trees/bushes, so the cats help my family. Right now when it’s too cold here in Wyoming for them to be outside for very long, our cats are mainly inside. Eight months out of the year we have two deadly creatures roaming our ranchland hood. Remember, cats are also prey for predators such as fishers. They have more impacts and relationships than mentioned above. And I still love them. Overall, I feel humans have so much impact, especially in urban areas, that there are much more worthwhile environmental battles to fight… such as over(human)population.

  • John
    Jan 23rd, 2013 at 07:28 | #2


    Here is another study on the same topic, That I read in the Wildlife Society Magazine.

  • Jan 23rd, 2013 at 17:57 | #3

    We rescued a cat from the local shelter 3 years ago.It’s never neen out side in those 3 years. Although it does spend a lot of time looking out the window at the birds, wishing it could get it’s teeth into them.

  • Jan 24th, 2013 at 13:37 | #4

    Eric, do you not understand that your cats are part of the “human impact” that you refer to, “especially in urban areas”? 500 million birds are killed each year by the cats that are pets of humans or feral cats that USED to be pets.

  • Jan 30th, 2013 at 16:45 | #5

    For those of you still interested in the topic another report came out yesterday from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service in Nature about the impact of cats in America. The charts on Factors explaining uncertainty in estimates of wildlife mortality from cat predation are especially interesting



Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>