Backyard Chirper

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Feral cats are major threats to birds, but there are no easy solutions

The fundamental rivalry and animosity between the bird and the cat is as age-old as cats vs. dogs. Not only has it been engrained in our popular culture with outlandish characters like Tweety and Sylvester, but the issue seems to be causing bitter factions between bird lovers and cat lovers (groups that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive).

In several recent articles, which were sparked by the American Bird Conservancy’s letter to 50 mayors calling to end Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs for cats, the debate is more alive than ever. I’ve discussed this issue of cats vs. birds on the blog before, but if you’re new to the subject, bird lovers argue that cats kill millions of innocent birds each year while cat lovers dismiss some of the evidence they point to.

There’s one part of the debate that is pretty straightforward. Cats do kill birds and birds are especially vulnerable at your bird feeders. I wrote an article on how to keep cats away from bird feeders that included such things as using baffles, selecting strategic locations for your feeder and, most importantly, keeping cats indoors. In light of recent complaints from both sides, I argue that there are satisfying measures to decrease the number of bird deaths caused by cats each year that are humane.

In the letter to the mayors, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) said that TNR is completely ineffective and should be stopped because 1) it is not doing enough to curb feral cat populations and 2) they can’t get every cat. It’s true that cats continue to congregate in packs, but I think TNR is attempting to do something to curb the population of wild cats. Practicing TNR along with programs designed to find more families for unwanted cats and encourage owners to keep them indoors is a great idea.

Throughout my life, I’ve owned a number of cats and I know it’s difficult to keep them indoors all the time, but it’s possible and not only is it safe for birds, but it could also extend a cat’s life. The life of a cat who lives outdoors is cut by around three years. So, if you have a cat, you should do your best to keep it indoors and away from birds. Cats were introduced here centuries ago and birds weren’t equipped to deal with predators as stealthy as cats.

Preventative measures like spaying and neutering your cats (and stray cats) and education on how to keep your cat safe indoors are all ways to curb bird deaths. The debate will likely rage on, but there needs to be a meeting between the two sides on how to negotiate what’s best for both cats and birds.

I think Steve Dale put it best in one of his columns:

Let’s all find a way to work together. Once again, I call for a symposium to bring the two sides together to find common ground — which likely starts here: No one wants to see songbirds killed. I think working together we can succeed to do far more than working apart and spewing misinformation, even hatred.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. I’m a licensed migratory songbird rehabber in Tulsa and I’m also a cat lover. I KEEP MY CATS INDOORS AT ALL TIMES, unless I’m within 3 feet of them (one at a time) in my back yard. The problem I continuously have is not MY cats getting and killing my songbirds, (I have over 20 feeders in my back yard) but OTHER PEOPLE’S CATS, and feral cats, which come into my yard before sun up, then lay in wait for my “early feeders” , such as cardinal, chickadees, etc., to come to the feeders. I’ve WITNESSED, on four occasions, these feral cats jumping out from their “spot”, and grabbing birds, mourning doves, native sparrows, even a pigeon on one occasion. They then run as fast as they can, bird in mouth, and scale my 6′ privacy fence. After having lost several of the birds I worked so hard to save this past season, (carolina wrens, mocks, robins, jays, etc.) I finally set out a live trap. I caught a feral the other day, and ended up taking her and having her put down by my vet….this broke my heart to have to do; but I’m out of options. I will not stand back and allow my birds to be killed over and over and over again.

  2. Yes, it’s a tough predicament for animal lovers. You want to save birds, but feral cats make that difficult because they’re constantly prowling and hunting. As much as I hate to see an animal euthanized, I hope it helps protect the birds in your yard.

  3. The fellow named Clark Burdine who posted on Facebook advising that the best way to end feral cats eating birds is to “poison them with antifreeze” should be reprimanded or better yet, banned from posting on your blog.

  4. Carlos Menefee…

    Wow, great post.Really thank you! Much obliged….

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