Originally Published: September 4, 2004 7 a.m.
At last Saturday's gardening class one of the questions which came up was "What do you do about cats?" Since opening Jay's Bird Barn this past year I have had many people mention to me that they have given up bird feeding because of cats.
It is not surprising that many bird lovers are also cat lovers. I don't find this particularly strange, as individuals who like birds tend to like all kinds of critters, cats included! However, bird lovers who own cats usually keep their cats indoors and there is rarely a problem with the cats and birds interacting. While I might be preaching to the choir in this article, I hope cat owners who are not bird lovers will read this article and think and act responsibly with their cats.
Cats cannot be blamed for killing birds and other naturally occurring wildlife. It is instinctive for cats to hunt and to kill. It is the responsibility of cat owners to control their cats. Scientists have estimated that cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year, and three times as many small mammals! The best solution to prevent the unnecessary death of wild birds, mammals, lizards, snakes and other native, naturally occurring species is to keep cats indoors.
Domesticated cats are non-native to North America. Cats were brought to the New World several centuries ago by early European settlers. Because wild birds and cats did not evolve together in nature over thousands of years, birds have not developed defensive strategies to successfully elude cats and are at a disadvantage.
There are a variety of reasons for keeping cats indoors besides protecting wild birds. Cats that wander and roam outdoors have an average life expectancy of only two to five years. On the other hand, indoor cats can live to be 17 years old – sometimes even older. Outdoor cats are much more likely to suffer an early death due to being run over by cars, predation by coyotes, foxes, owls and dogs.
Outdoor cats are also much more likely to contract diseases and infections that indoor cats don't get exposed to.
Responsible pet owners know and understand the importance of keeping their cats indoors. Family pets are like family members, and we are crushed when a family pet dies an untimely death, especially when the death was totally preventable. I remember well, as a young boy growing up in Tucson, looking for our family dog, which had gotten loose and did not return. I headed out on my bike only to find him dead on the side of the road after being hit by a milk truck. Memories like that last a lifetime.
I want to make a distinction between domestic cats and feral cats. Feral cats are strays that have become wild and do not have an owner. I would not advocate trapping a domestic cat that belongs to your neighbor; however, if there are feral cats roaming your neighborhood that do not belong to anyone, I think for the health of the cat and for the safety of wild animals, it would be prudent to capture the cat. Residents of Prescott can obtain a live trap from the Animal Control department for one week at a time by leaving a security deposit that is refunded when the trap is returned. I'm not sure if other municipalities in the Prescott area offer a similar program, but it would be worth looking into.
Individuals feeding wild birds would be wise to place feeders in areas that are fairly open so it would be difficult for cats to sneak up on feeders and pounce on unaware birds. Feeders should be at least 12 feet from any ground cover where cats might be waiting for an easy meal.
There is a national organization called the American Bird Conservancy that is leading an effort to educate the public on the hazards of free-roaming cats. The ABC has developed a program called "Cats Indoors!
The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats." The ABC has a web site if you would like to obtain additional information and ideas on the issue of free-roaming cats.
The address is email@example.com. There is also a brochure produced by the ABC titled "Keeping Cats Indoors Isn't Just for the Birds."
If you have specific questions, or issues related to wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, P.O. Box 11471, Prescott, AZ 86304, or e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week, happy birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn at Watters Garden Center. He has been an avid birder for close to 40 years.