Protecting Birds from Pet Cats

Woody in the Garden

How to Help Birds Be Safe from Cats

Cats are natural predators, but no one really likes it when their cat catches birds. Even well-fed cats will hunt and the housecat has the advantage of having a safe haven indoors much of the time.

About 40% of US households have cats, and that's an estimated 100 million pet cats. About 50 to 65% of those cats go outdoors daily.

Some studies suggest 20% of the prey killed by housecats are birds. One study put the number of birds killed per "owned" cat as about 16 per year. We have also seen numbers such as 12 birds - 20 birds/year/cat.

The numbers of birds harmed really adds up. According to Mike Calver, PhD, of Murdoch University in Perth Australia: "Rough estimates suggest that pet cats kill 29.2 million birds and 57.4 million mammals annually in the UK, and 100 million birds annually in the USA." (His article is linked to further down this page.)

Other estimates of the number of birds killed in the U.S. are much greater. One often cited--but sometimes disputed--study, which was a review of prior published articles, modeled that more than a billion birds might be killed by cats each year in the U.S. That seems a fantastically high number, given the 5 - 10 billion bird population.

Does the exact number of birds killed really matter? It's a very large a number, whatever it is--and it looks preventable. Cats can be indoors only; they can be walked on a leash, or let outside in a "catio" enclosure apart from birds. Or, there are devices to reduce the toll, such as the Birdsbesafe collar cover.

The number of birds killed by owned domestic cats is accurately described here: Jury Still Out on Whether Cats are Killers But Prison is in the Cards by Mike Calver, PhD, Murdoch University in Western Australia. He is a recognized expert on the topic and he has published quite a number of scientific articles on cat-bird predation based on his field work. This article summarizes the problem well, and it includes this paragraph:

"Regardless of the controversy, owners who wish to reduce predation by their cats have plenty of options. Collar-worn predation deterrents may be the solution for free-roaming pet cats. They include the old staple of a bell on the collar, electronic devices that chime at short intervals or when a cat pounces, coloured ruffs around the collar that warn birds away and flaps of material called pounce protectors that interfere with paw-eye coordination when the cat pounces."

Those colored "ruffs"? Those are our very own Birdbesafe cat collar covers.

No matter the exact scope of the problem, birds are already under pressure from lost habitat, environmental pollution and now, climate change. If we can lower the toll of cat predation on birds, we must try to do so. Cat predation on birds is a serious problem that has the attention of bird conservationists and veterinarians, as well as bird-loving cat owners. Why should wildlife, such as birds, suffer from housepets that do not need to outdoors hunting?

Please consider protecting birds from your household cat. Keep your cat indoors, if you can. If not, use Birdsbesafe to reduce their impact on wild birds.

Updates and Other Articles: Another article about cats and birds is here, in Conservation Magazine, and it discusses some of the problems with prior studies and numbers.

Recent New York Times Article: Jan Hoffman wrote When a Cat Comes Back, with Prey in 2015. She discusses pet owner attitudes v.v. a recent study in the U.K. Worth reading!

For more information, you may like Natalie Angier’s Sept. 29 NY Times article: Give the Birds a Break, Lock up You Cat. She outlines the problem of bird-hunting cats very well.