According to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) cats kill an estimated 55 million birds in Britain every year and such a predation could be contributing to long-term declines of garden birds. Cats also pose a significant threat to endangered mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Studies have shown that alone the presence of cats in the garden is causing directly and indirectly the death of nestling birds, as parents are disturbed, nestlings are not fed sufficiently and third party predators are invited for a free meal.
Cats are domesticated animals. They are not a natural predator in our existing ecosystem, as they have been brought in existence by humans. It is estimated that UK households owned approximately 10.3 million cats in 2006, strays not being counted. Trap – Neuter – Release programmes are supported by several charities. However, these programmes are only partly addressing the impact cats have on our wildlife, as most neutered stray cats will be returned to ‘the wild’. With regards to wildlife conservation, it would be more efficient to stop breeding and selling cats completely and to focus on a foster system taking care of the existing cat population, to basically get all feral cats off the road.
Birds caught alive and being seemingly uninjured should not be released. Please contact an experienced bird rescue immediately, even if the bird seems to be healthy and uninjured. Due to bacteria (Pasteurella multocida) within a cat’s claws and mouth it is essential that the caught bird is seen and treated with antibiotics straight away. If the bird is left for too long, there is a risk of a fatal infection (septicaemia).
These are sad but proven facts. Fortunately there are solutions available a responsible cat owner can adopt. So what can be done? The best and safest option for a cat and for wildlife is to keep your cat indoors, or in a sufficient stimulating outdoor enclosure. Cats can also have a good time in the garden in a supervised fashion, or even be trained to be walked on a lead. In other words, the cat flap has to go. Collars fitted with bells or ultrasonic devices are widely recommended, but their effectiveness is questionable. To make them work at all bells need to be changed frequently, as cats are able to learn to adapt their movements to avoid to make any noise. As these collars serve the purpose to make cats more obvious to birds, they may simply provoke even more alarm calls during the nesting period, resulting in a higher nestling mortality as mentioned above.
It is also recommended to spread out bird feeders so that feeding flocks might spot a cat more easily. The more birds you attract to your garden, the less likely cats are to catch them as there are more pairs of eyes keeping watch. Chicken wire can be placed around nest boxes and thorny vegetation can be planted to help protect nesting birds. In addition, ultrasonic devices, which are triggered by the cat, can help dissuade cats from using certain areas of a garden. Make sure feeders are not too close to possible cat hiding places. If the lid of a bird box is not secure, the nesting family becomes a target. Check twice when you are siting a nest box. Make sure it is not accessible to cats from a branch or the top of a wall.
One of the things you can also do to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cat at least in at night. Sunset and sunrise are the times of day when cats like to go hunting most. These are also the times your cat is most likely to be run over. That way you do our wildlife and your cat a big favour.