Protect Birds From Cats

Cats pose a significant threat to bird populations, especially songbirds. As natural predators, cats instinctively hunt and kill small animals, including birds. With an estimated 60 million feral and outdoor pet cats in the United States alone, the impact on bird numbers is immense. However, as responsible cat owners and stewards of nature, we can take steps to protect birds from cats and mitigate their predation. This allows us to balance cat ownership and wildlife conservation.

Understanding the Threat Cats Pose to Birds

To understand how to protect birds, we must first comprehend the scale of the problem cats present:

High Hunting Drives in Cats

Cats are obligate carnivores and skilled hunters. Their natural prey drive remains strong, even if well-fed. This instinct compels them to hunt and kill small prey, especially birds.

Number of Birds Killed

Research estimates outdoor cats in the US kill 1.3–4 billion birds annually. Other studies show cats kill 2.4 billion birds per year in just Canada. Birder surveys reveal high losses of common feeder species.

Most Cat Predation Targets Native Species

Over 70% of cat predation kills native bird species. Several threatened and endangered species are at risk too. This damages local ecosystems.

Cat Predation Adds to Other Threats Birds Face

Habitat loss, collisions with buildings/vehicles, and climate change also threaten bird populations. Cat predation compounds these challenges further.

Indoor Pet Cats Also Kill Birds When Let Outside

Even well-fed indoor pet cats will hunt when let outdoors. Keeping pet cats indoors prevents them preying on local wildlife.

Assessing Which Birds Are Most At Risk

Not all birds face equal danger from cats. Several factors influence their susceptibility:

Ground Nesting Species

Birds that nest on or near the ground are especially vulnerable to cat predation. Their nests are easily discovered and predated. Examples include ducks, quail, sparrows, meadowlarks, and shorebirds.

Common Feeder Birds

Abundant backyard species like chickadees, finches, doves, jays, and cardinals often fall prey to cats near homes. Feeders attract birds, but also cats.

Fledglings and Juveniles

Young birds unable to fly well or still dependent on parents face high risks. Cats often prey on bird fledglings.

Migratory Songbirds

Many small migratory songbirds like warblers, vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers are favored cat prey. Cats kill over 2 billion such birds annually in the US alone according to Smithsonian estimates.

Rare and Endangered Species

Rare endemic island species and endangered mainland birds are especially vulnerable due to small populations. Even low levels of cat predation hasten their decline. Hawaiian birds face extreme threats from feral cats.

Protecting Nesting Birds From Cats

Protecting vulnerable ground and cavity nesting birds from cats requires some seasonal planning:

  • Locate bird nests on or near the ground before the breeding season starts. Search areas cats frequent.
  • Monitor and deter cats from nesting areas using humane deterrents like automatic sprinklers. Avoid methods that could harm birds too.
  • Block access to nesting sites using barriers like wire mesh or thorny plants. Ensure parents can still enter/exit.
  • Post signs or temporary fencing near nests to make them more visible and prevent disturbance.
  • Keep pet cats indoors during peak spring/summer nesting season. This reduces predation risks significantly.

Securing Yards and Gardens Against Cats

Making yards and gardens safer for birds involves excluding cats and modifying landscaping:

  • Install cat-proof perimeter fencing, coyote rollers, or order Clevercat devices to deter cat entry.
  • Remove dense bushes and add water features cats dislike. Open up sightlines for birds to spot cats.
  • Place bird feeders in more secure areas, not bordering fences or brush where cats hide and ambush.
  • Add sheltered escape cover for birds like thick hedges or shrubs if lacking.
  • Use deterrents like automatic sprinklers, lion dung, citrus scents, or bird safe noise/ultrasound devices. Test them first to ensure no harm to birds.
  • Install high nest boxes on posts or buildings to make nests inaccessible to cats. Clean out old nests yearly.
  • Keep cats indoors at peak bird nesting times and when fledglings leave nests but can’t fly well yet. Outdoor cats kill many juveniles.

Deterring Cats Humanely in Backyards

Use humane cat deterrents to make yards less appealing:

  • Use motion activated sprinklers. Cats dislike being sprayed with water.
  • Place plastic or wooden spikes on flat surfaces like garden walls to prevent cats sitting there.
  • Use scent repellents made from lion dung or citrus oils. Avoid harsh chemical repellents.
  • Try ultrasonic devices. These emit high frequency sounds cats dislike but birds can’t hear.
  • Erect cat scarers that make alarming sounds when triggered by motion sensors.
  • Apply sticky gels to flat surfaces cats frequent. These stick briefly to paws as a deterrent. Avoid bird feeders.
  • Keep yards free of hiding spots like tall grass. Open visibility helps birds spot stalking cats.
  • Install shiny spinning discs or metallic strips that move in wind. These startle cats.

Discouraging Feral and Stray Cats Humanely

To protect birds from unowned cats, use deterrents and population control:

  • Don’t feed strays or dump cats. This aggregates populations dependant on easy food from humans.
  • Support TNR programs to stabilize and reduce stray/feral populations by neutering cats. Adopt friendly cats into homes.
  • Use humane traps to capture nuisance cats for TNR. Release cats back where caught.
  • Deter cats with sprinklers, ultrasonic devices and removal of outdoor food sources. Make yards less welcoming.
  • Seal up potential den sites and prevent access under sheds, decks, etc. Don’t give cats places to rest, hide, or raise kittens.
  • Encourage natural predators like coyotes that help control feral cats while also supporting bird populations as native predators.

Keeping Pet Cats Indoors or Contained

Responsible pet cat ownership involves keeping cats enclosed:

  • Transition indoor/outdoor cats to become fully indoor pets for their own safety and to protect wildlife. Do it gradually.
  • Build outdoor cat enclosures (catios) so cats have safe outside access without roaming free.
  • Install shelving, cat trees, and perches on windows to enrich indoor environments.
  • Harness train cats young and provide supervised outdoor time on leashes in safe areas. Never allow free roaming.
  • Neuter indoor cats so they don’t try to escape to breed. Identify cats so they can be returned if escaped.
  • Microchip indoor cats as a backup escape recovery method. Register contact details in national databases.
  • Don’t dump unwanted cats. Rehome them responsibly via adoption groups or sanctuaries able to take cats long term.

Reducing Predation Risks for Birds that Nest in Cavities

Cavity nesting birds also face dangers from cats. Reduce risks by:

  • Installing predator guards or baffles on birdhouses and nest boxes cats could access.
  • Monitor potential nest cavities to ensure cats have not already accessed them.
  • Site nest boxes away from trees, fences and other structures cats could climb to access cavities.
  • Clean out old nesting materials in fall to prevent parasites or predators overwintering in boxes/houses.
  • Choose smaller entrance holes for nest boxes to exclude cats, about 1 1/8 inches for chickadees and titmice, 1 1⁄2 for nuthatches and wrens.
  • Put duck nesting boxes on platforms over deep water or use predator guards if on land.
  • Inspect nest boxes frequently and remove predators found inside like cats, raccoons or rats.

Alternatives to Declawing Cats

Declawing does not reduce hunting behavior but does disable cats. Some alternatives include:

  • Regularly trim cat claws to remove sharp points
  • Fit plastic caps or shields on claws
  • Redirect scratching to appropriate posts and pads
  • Consider deterrent sprays like bitter apple on items to discourage scratching
  • Try synthetic facial pheromones to reduce stress and unwanted behaviors
  • Ensure cats get daily exercise and enrichment to prevent boredom and unwanted behaviors

Compromising Between Cat Ownership and Bird Conservation

With some careful planning, we can balance cat ownership with bird protection:

  • Keep pet cats indoors or enclosed outside rather than letting them roam freely. Build cat patios and walks.
  • Use deterrents and habitat modification to prevent free-roaming stray and feral cats from hunting birds in yards. Support humane population control.
  • During nesting seasons, pay extra attention to excluding cats from accessing potential nesting sites, fledglings and juvenile birds.
  • Do not introduce cats to new areas where they could threaten endangered endemic wildlife. Practice responsible cat ownership.
  • Adopt humane policies in communities, apartments and housing developments requiring indoor cat keeping and prohibiting abandonment of unwanted cats.
  • Support advocacy groups working to educate cat owners about risks to birds. Back research on cat predation deterrents.

Protecting birds from cats requires commitment from cat owners to be responsible. With some education and planning, we can allow cats in our homes while also being good stewards of nature and native birds. Achieving balance is difficult but worthwhile.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some common questions about protecting birds from cats:

How many birds do cats kill each year?

Researchers estimate outdoor cats kill 1.3 to 4 billion birds annually in the United States alone. Studies show cats kill 2.4 billion birds per year in Canada. These are staggering numbers that threaten populations of many species.

What birds are most at risk from cats?

Ground nesting species, young birds still dependent on parents but unable to fly well, feeder birds like chickadees, and migratory songbirds are most vulnerable to cat predation. Rare endemic island birds and endangered mainland species also face high risks.

Should I keep my indoor/outdoor cat fully indoors?

Yes, transitioning indoor/outdoor cats to indoor only is best for bird conservation and your cat’s safety. Do so gradually, providing enrichment like cat trees and harness walks outside for mental stimulation. An enclosed cat patio is another good way to let cats be outside safely.

How can I stop neighborhood cats entering my yard?

Install perimeter fencing, thorny plants, or cat deterrents like ultrasonic devices or motion activated sprinklers. Remove brushy areas for cats to hide and raise sightlines. Don’t leave out food that attracts stray and feral cats. Support TNR programs to stabilize populations humanely.

Are fake predators effective for deterring cats?

Sometimes. Animated decorations like fake owls, snakes and spiders, or sounds of dogs barking may temporarily deter cats but they habituate. More effective are automatically triggered loud sounds or water spray devices activated by a cat’s motion.

Should I remove bird feeders near where cats travel?

Yes, keep feeders in more secure areas of your yard, like surrounded by open visibility or deterrents. Cats stake out feeders waiting to ambush visiting birds. Never place feeders right next to boundaries cats can hide and pounce from.

How can I protect baby birds that have fledged but can’t fly well yet?

During spring and summer when young birds leave the nest before they can fly properly, it is important to monitor areas cats frequent. Deter cats from accessing fledglings while also allowing the parents to still care for their young during this critical learning period.

Can I train my cat not to hunt birds?

Not easily. Their predatory instincts remain strong. Providing adequate enrichment and keeping cats confined helps curb hunting behaviors. Early leash training can allow safe time outdoors. Cases of cats lived harmoniously with indoor birds, but don’t introduce pet birds to cats with any history of bird predation.


The immense scale of bird mortality caused by cats makes addressing this issue critical for conservation. With education and commitment from cat owners, we can pursue solutions that protect birds and balance cat ownership responsibly. This may require compromises like keeping pet cats enclosed and deterring unowned cats humanely. Achieving balance remains challenging but vital for ecosystem health. With ongoing research and advocacy, more progress protecting birds from cats will emerge. But each responsible cat owner must also contribute to this effort at the individual level too. By understanding the threats cats pose to birds and taking action, we fulfill our ethical obligations for stewardship. The steps outlined here provide a starting point we can build upon.


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