Killer Cats?

Cats – our furry feline friends. The internet is full of them, from the famous Grumpy cat, to hilarious anxiety cat memes, kitten massage and cats sitting in boxes that are way too small for them, we just can’t seem to get enough cats in our lives.

But when we let our beloved pets outside, sometimes they’re up to no good. Predation by cats is the leading cause of songbird deaths, with over 100 million deaths estimated in Canada alone, and some estimates place this number much higher. Worldwide annual estimates of birds killed by outdoor cats, either owned or feral, are in the billions.

It’s also not just that cats kill birds, but they can frighten them too. Evidence from the UK shows that even brief appearances of cats at bird nest sites leads to behavioural changes in birds, a reduction of food brought to nestlings, and increased nest predation by other birds.

Considering that many bird species are at risk and declining in Canada and that more than 40% of migratory birds around the world are declining, this is cause for concern.

In a way, it’s not the cat’s fault. A cat’s instinct is to kill – even though they’ve long been domesticated, domestic cats still carry these ancient instincts.

So it’s not just the birds we should be worried about, but our kitties too. Cats that roam freely outdoors are more likely to get infections, get into fights with other cats and wildlife such as coyotes, or get hit by vehicles. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats.

The best way to keep your cat and wild birds safe is to keep your cat indoors or prevent them from roaming freely outdoors, especially in the spring when young birds and other wildlife are most vulnerable.

To keep your pet happy and birds safe, you can:

  • Take Nature Canada’s pledge to keep your cat from roaming freely outdoors.
  • Keep your cat indoors to give them a healthier and life. Provide extra stimulation with toys such as stuffed mice or bells (or pipecleaners and hair elastics – fan favourites of my female cat), scratching posts and cat condos.
  •  Let them outside on a leash or in an outdoor enclosure, or take them for walks on a leash (yes, it’s possible!)
  • Give them a brightly coloured collar with a bell to warn birds, or try a collar cover or Cat Bib. Birds have exceptional eyesight and will be better able to see your cat and fly away from them.
  • And of course, spay or neuter your cat.

In the end, it's about the health and safety of your cat, and wildlife. I personally rest much easier at night knowing that my cats are sleeping at the foot of the bed, rather than being cold outside, or threatening baby birds.

Photos by Matthew Sakistewa, Doris May, Rebecca Ellis, Betty Fisher.

Special thanks to Alberta Ecotrust and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for your assistance with our Hazardous Habitats project.