How to Protect Backyard Birds from Cats

How to protect backyard birds from cats

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Around 25% of all American homes have a pet cat. While these animals might be cute and fluffy, they’re also natural-born predators and wild birds are one of their main targets. 

What’s interesting about feline hunters is that they are ready to strike even if they’re not hungry. Known as opportunists, cats will go in for the kill whenever the chance is presented to them.

In a rather grim, yet eye-opening photograph, we see the number of animals killed by one house cat alone every year. While cats’ natural instincts cannot be altered, we are in a position to offer protection to their prey; wild birds.

Easy Ways to Protect Yard Birds from Cats

Tips to protect birds from cats

We aren’t getting rid of cats any time soon; they’re common pets and there’s a worrying number of strays in the USA. However, if you’re looking to protect local birdlife then you’ll need to make sure that you create a safe space where cats don’t stand much of a chance of preying on our feathered friends.

1. Don’t Place Bird Food on the Floor

Don’t place bird food on the floor to protect against cats

Some birds are ground feeders but many species prefer to eat on a platform feeder or somewhere high up that cats cannot access. When they are left to feed on the ground, the birds become very vulnerable to attacks and you’re making the cats’ lives extremely easy.

If you install bird feeders, it’s also a good idea to use one that has a baffle. This is a simple preventative device that will stop cats (and other animals) from being able to climb up the feeder.

2. Locate Birds Feeders & Bird Baths where it’s Difficult for Cats to Access

Locate birds feeders & bird baths where it’s difficult for cats to access

Feeding local birdlife is crucial but when we do this, it’s important that we carefully consider where we will place our bird feeders. The best thing to do is to try to make it as difficult as possible for cats to be able to get onto a bird feeder.

One of the easiest ways of doing this is placing your bird feeders away from plants or tree cover. Cats are able to hide within the foliage and pounce onto the feeder. However, if it’s placed far enough away, they won’t make the jump.

It’s also worth planting thorny or spiky plants at the base of the feeder as a way of deterring cats. Even if you don’t want full plants, just scattering a few clippings may be more than enough to keep cats away.

3. Use Chicken Wire & Place Fences Around Your Yard

Use chicken wire & place fences around your yard to protect against cats

If you can prevent cats from getting into your yard in the first place than half the battle is won. One of the best ways to achieve this is to install taller fences which are more difficult for cats to scale. But regardless of fence heights, it’s a good idea to use spiky toppers that make it more challenging for cats to walk along the fence.

Another great way to stop cats from walking along the top of your fence is to install string or wire between the tops of the posts. These will be too tricky for cats to balance on.

While plants and shrubs look attractive, planting these along the edges of your fences gives cats some leverage, even over a high fence. So, it’s important not to place them too close. Moreover, choosing a smooth fence will stop cats from being able to climb it.

Also, be sure to repair any holes in your fences, as these give cats an easy entrance into your garden. Check that there are no gaps between fences that also serve as easy access and fix these where necessary.

4. Use Scent Deterrents

Use scent deterrents to prevent cats from visiting your backyard

Scents are a great natural way to deter all types of animals without harming them, and cats are no exception to this. You can purchase cat repellent sprays online, which can be applied anywhere you want to deter cats. Plus, the best ones are made using natural ingredients that don’t harm the cat or any plantlife, and they’re safe for use around children.

There are a wide variety of other ways you can use scents to repel cats. Citronella is a great option as cats are naturally repulsed by citrus scents. This scent will also keep away mosquitoes and other pesky bugs so it’s a double-edged sword. However, if you prefer, here is a list of some other scents that cats can’t stand:

  • Capsaicin
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • Vinegar
  • Pepper
  • Curry
  • Coffee

Spreading any of these scents around the areas you wish to keep cats away should have a positive effect.

5. Plant Shrubs & Trees for Cover

Plant shrubs & trees for bird cover

When birds are feeding, they need to feel safe. That’s why it’s important to provide them with natural cover, such as trees and shrubs. If not, there’s a good chance that they won’t come to your garden at all.

But more than this, when the birds are covered by foliage, it makes it more difficult for predators, like cats, to spot them. If they do attempt to jump out of a tree, there’s a high likelihood that the birds will hear them coming and will flee before they are attacked.

6. Position Nest Boxes Where Cats Can’t Reach Them

Position nest boxes where cats can’t reach them

As well as feeding time, nesting is also a time when birds become incredibly vulnerable. A lot of homeowners will install nest boxes to provide a safe space for the birds, but what they don’t often realize is that placement is just as important as shelter.

When installing a nest box, make sure to position it somewhere that cats cannot gain access. The nestlings and fledglings are at particular risk of attack, so it’s even more essential to protect them. It is possible for cats to reach into the nest box, so make sure to have an extending roof so that, if a cat sits on top of the box, it is unable to reach around and get in.

Just like with your bird feeders, you can place thorny plants underneath nest box locations to serve as a deterrent to cats. Plus, certain plants, like hawthorn, also play an important role in feeding the birds over winter.

7. Use a Bell on Your Cat’s Collar

Use a bell on your cat’s collar to protect birds

Using a collar with a bell may reduce the number of birds that cats are able to attack as the sound will alert the birds before anything happens. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that this isn’t always effective. That said, some studies have shown a degree of effectiveness not only in the hunting of birds but other animals such as voles and mice.

One cat owner grew sick and tired of her beloved moggy bringing back ‘presents’ and took the time to invent a collar known as the Birdsbesafe which works based on the bird’s ability to see bright colors. The somewhat flamboyant collar appears to be effective since one study showed that cats wearing the collar returned home in spring with as many as 19 times fewer birds. 

Another product, the Catbib, was demonstrated as being able to stop up to 94% of cats from catching wild songbirds when the collar was trialed. The idea of the Catbib is to put a barrier between predator and prey making it much more difficult for the cats to wreak havoc.

While these, and many other collars, are effective ways to prevent cats from preying on garden birds, you do need to be mindful of the cat’s safety as well. Make sure that the collar has a quick release mechanism so that the cat can escape should the collar become stuck on a fence, plant, or any other item.

8. Keep Cats Indoors When Birds are Most Active During the Day

Keep cats indoors when birds are most active during the day

Cats need exercise, there’s no getting away from that. But they don’t need to be outdoors all of the time so if you can keep your cat inside when birds are at their most active, there’s less chance of an unwanted encounter.

Birds become more active after a spell of bad weather as well as at sunrise and sunset. It’s a good idea to keep your cat inside during these times especially since, during nesting, there may be lone fledglings on the ground. At the very least, try to keep the cat indoors until the parents have retrieved their fledgling.

If you can, make sure to supervise your cat when they are in the yard. Alternatively, you could use a catio which is an outdoor enclosure designed to give cats the outside time they need without putting local wildlife at risk.

For those times that your cat is indoors, make sure that he or she has plenty to remain entertained. If the animal becomes bored, this is when they may turn to destructive behaviors and that’s the last thing anyone wants. Moreover, it’s important to stay on top of your cat’s diet and ensure they are well fed as this will reduce the need to hunt for food.

If you have to let your cat outside, using a GPS tracker will help you to monitor where they are going and whether this could be a threat to the birds.

9. Consider Spaying or Neutering Your Cat

Consider spaying or neutering your cat to eliminate unwanted behaviors such as spraying and aggression.

There are already an astonishing number of stray cats in the USA so we really don’t want to add to the feline population where these animals cannot have a safe home. However, far too many pet owners do not have their cats spayed or neutered. This means that the cat can reproduce and the more cats there are, the more attacks on birds are going to happen.

If possible, consider having your cat spayed or neutered. This is a very safe procedure and your cat will normally have a fast recovery. The procedure can also help to eliminate unwanted behaviors such as spraying and aggression.

10. Install Motion-Activated Sprinklers

Install motion-activated sprinklers to deter cats

Most of us are familiar with the idea that cats do not like water. By installing motion-activated sprinklers, cats will receive an unwanted spray of water and will quickly retreat to get away from it.

There are some sprinklers that have an excellent range and will activate when the animal comes within forty feet of the sensor. Of course, you do need to think about where you’ll place the device so that it isn’t set off when you or your neighbors walk past.

11. Consider Using Ultrasonic Cat Repellent Devices

An ultrasonic cat repellent device works in a similar way to the motion-activated sprinkler. When the sensor detects movement, it will emit an ultrasonic sound that cats can’t stand. It doesn’t cause them any harm but will send them running in the opposite direction so they won’t bother the birds.

What’s more, you don’t need to worry about disturbing the peace in your yard since these devices only emit sounds at a frequency that cannot be heard by humans.

Our Pick

Ultrasonic Solar Animal Repellent

This easy-to-install solar-powered animal repellent will help deter cats from visiting your yard. It can be attached to a wall, fence, or simply inserted into the ground. It uses a passive infrared sensor that detects motion and will trigger the ultrasonic speaker automatically.

There have been studies to show the effectiveness of these devices on cats and as many as 46% fewer visits were recorded. Some devices have additional features such as strobe lights and predator noises which further act as a feline deterrent.

12. Avoid Feeding Stray Cats

Avoid feeding strays or your neighbor’s cat

When you feed a cat, you are sending the message that your backyard is a place where a meal is available. While it can be tempting to offer food to a local stray or a neighbor’s cat who is looking in need of some TLC, this will only encourage the animal to return.

It’s important to not feed cats that do not belong to you unless you are prepared to have the cat return time and again. The more the cat is present in your garden, the more local birdlife will be in danger. In most cases, birds will be deterred from your garden so you won’t have the benefit of observing them.

13. Report Any Feral Cats to Your Local Animal Shelter

Report any feral cats to your local animal shelter

It is believed that there are as many as 50 to 70 million feral cats in the United States, so it’s not uncommon for people to have them wandering around their property.

However, it is known that some feral cats can carry diseases that are transmissible to humans so, while you might want to help the animal, you should leave this to the professionals.

Should you notice a feral cat, it’s important to alert your local animal shelter who will be able to rescue the cat and provide it with the care it needs. The more feral cats that can be taken care of, the less birds are at risk.

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