Cat, hunting.

Cats and garden birds

There is no denying that pet cats kill garden birds. Many people are distressed and angered by someone else's cat killing birds in their garden. Many cat owners want to stop cats killing birds.

Our concern for all wildlife

The RSPB is not an animal welfare organisation, but a wildlife conservation organisation concerned with populations of all wild birds and other wildlife. The RSPB is, however, aware of people's feelings about this issue, and takes their concerns seriously.

The RSPCA and Scottish SPCA, which are primarily concerned with animal welfare and not conservation, support the advice in these pages.

Cats may take millions of birds every year, but from a conservation viewpoint, we need to consider whether this is causing bird populations to decline.

These pages provide some information on the impact cats might have on birds in gardens, and some ideas on what can be done to reduce it. There is still much that is not clear but we will continue to review our knowledge.

Some facts and figures about cats

  • The best estimate of the number of pet cats in the UK is 8 million, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, plus an unknown number of feral cats (those living wild).
  • There is a species of wild cat, found in Scotland, which is native to the UK, but domestic cats are not part of our native fauna. They are maintained by people and do not need to hunt to survive.
  • Cats are individuals - their behaviour varies widely. Some will be prolific hunters, some may catch nothing at all. Town cats live at higher densities than country cats. Although each town cat will catch fewer prey overall than a country cat, their prey will include a higher proportion of birds.
  • Most cats are opportunistic hunters they will catch whatever they come across rather than actively hunting a particular species. This means whatever is most abundant or vulnerable is most likely to be caught. Cats will catch prey even if they are not hungry.
  • According to a recent major survey by the Mammal Society, birds comprise a relatively small proportion (about 20 per cent) of all the creatures caught by cats. Most of the rest of their catches will be mice or voles. Most of the birds are taken around dawn and dusk, during the breeding season and mid-winter.
  • It often seems that cats catch more birds than small mammals. This is because birds are mainly caught during the day, so you are more likely to see it, while mice and voles are mainly caught at night.

Are cats causing bird declines?

Cat sleeping on window sill

Estimates of how many creatures are killed by cats each year vary significantly.

Bird-friendly gardens

Blue tit Parus caeruleus, juvenile, perched on garden trellis with flowering honeysuckle. Co. Durham.

A range of relatively simple measures can be recommended which could help to reduce the risk of cats catching garden birds, especially where food is being put out for birds.

Cat deterrents

Research - cat deterrent project August 2003, Sarah Nelson & Nigel Butcher setting up infra-red camera & VCR.

There are many ways in which you can deter cats from entering your garden.

How cat owners can help

Cat, hunting.

A range of relatively simple measures can be recommended which could help to reduce the risk of cats catching garden birds, especially where food is being put out for birds.