For cat owners and bird lovers alike, this is going to be a tough few weeks. If you’re a baby bird, it could be much worse.
According to the RSPB, 27 million birds are killed every year in this country by the 7.2 million cats UK residents keep as pets. That means our feline companions are supplementing the £829m we spend on cat food every year with their own avian breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Before you despair, there are ways of getting your cat to do its bit for bird conservation.
• Fit a bell to your cat’s collar – This simple addition could cut predation by at least a third. For those cats who don’t suit bells (apparently some will refuse to go out wearing them) there are other gadgets out there; from audio-visual alarm collars which sense the inertia of your cat’s pounce, to cat bibs, a device from the US which gets in the way just as the cat strikes out for the bird.
• Make sure your cat is well fed – Sounds logical, yet unlikely to work as a stand-alone measure. Few animals can be wholly trusted to turn down snacks on the basis of having already eaten.
• Impose a cat curfew – In an unlucky coincidence, it seems those times your cat is most desperate to escape the house – around sunset, sunrise and after bad weather – coincide with the most vulnerable point in the birds’ timetable, ie feeding time. During these high-risk hours you may also find unaccompanied fledglings on the ground and should take your cat indoors until baby and parent bird are reunited and have fled the scene.
• Avoid feeding birds on the floor – Choose higher ground or install a bird feeder to keep the birds out of reach. If your cat’s a climber, this won’t do, and the advice is to make it very unpleasant for any cat attempting to pursue their prey. Planting some spiny plants underneath the feeder should do it, the charity recommends.
If you choose to follow any – or even all – of these instructions, however, it’s likely to be as much about avoiding anguish and distress on your part and that of the bird-watchers next door, as it is about conservation. The charity admits that while there is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.
Every year I find dead birds in my ground, but to the cat’s credit this year all my birds are alive, even the toad!