Cat, hunting.

Stop cats catching and killing birds

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.

What you can do

  • Put a bell on your cat's collar. A recent study suggests that this may reduce predation of birds, and may reduce predation of mice and voles, too. The collar must be correctly fitted and should have a quick release mechanism to allow the cat to free itself, should it become snagged. There are commercially-available sonic collars which are designed to alert the potential prey to the cats presence. We do not yet know how effective these collars are or how they affect the cat.
  • Cats should always be well-fed and cared-for, but this may also encourage them to stay near home and be less likely to wander where they are not welcome (although it will not prevent them catching birds).
  • Keep your cat indoors when birds are most vulnerable: at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise, especially during March-July and December-January, and also after bad weather, such as rain or a cold spell, to allow birds to come out and feed.
  • Take unwanted cats to a shelter for rehoming to prevent the feral cat population from increasing.
  • Consider having cats neutered to prevent them wandering and producing unwanted kittens.
Bell heather Erica cinerea, heathland restoration, Farnham Heath RSPB reserve, Surrey, England

Collar that cat to save wildlife!

A correctly fitted collar and bell can reduce cat predation by a third, according to new RSPB research. The study, undertaken by volunteer cat owners from across the UK, tested the effect of different collar-mounted warning devices in reducing cat predation within gardens.

Results show that cats equipped with a bell returned 41 per cent fewer birds and 34 per cent fewer mammals than those with a plain collar. Those equipped with an electronic sonic device returned 51 per cent fewer birds and 38 per cent fewer mammals, compared with cats wearing a plain collar.

Gardens are becoming increasingly important as providers of food and shelter to many birds, because of a decrease in natural habitats and food sources. Red-listed species such as the house sparrow, starling and song thrush are becoming increasingly concentrated in gardens and therefore in closer contact with pet cats.

Currently there is no evidence to prove cats are responsible for the overall decline in bird numbers, however reducing predation can only help. 

A correctly-fitted collar can help stop cats from catching birds

Advice

Andy Evans, of the RSPB, said: 'Cats are certainly an emotive subject. One thing which distresses many people, cat lovers, bird lovers or devotees to both, is cats killing garden birds. Along with International Cat Care, the RSPB is happy to endorse correctly fitted quick-release collars mounted with bells as an effective way of reducing wildlife kill rates.'

Claire Bessant, chief executive of International Cat Care, added: 'Only a small proportion of cats develop the 3D skills necessary to catch adult birds. Giving these cats a collar with a bell to wear will help save birds but, for the safety of the cat, make sure that it is a quick release collar that snaps open if it gets caught on a branch. 

'It needs to be firmly fitted - you should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between your cat's collar and its neck. If in doubt about collar fitting, ask your vet for advice.'

The RSPB also advises that feeders should be placed about 2m from dense vegetation, preventing surprise attacks from cats but giving birds easy access to cover. Place nest boxes where cats cannot get close, as they might prevent parent birds from getting to the box.

Birds are most active in the garden an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, so it is helpful to regularly feed cats indoors at these times. If you are concerned about a baby bird in your garden, then remove your cat from the area and keep it indoors until the bird’s parents have moved the chick away.

Great tit Parus major, feeding on suet coated sunflower hearts, from ground feeding table