Jun 11, 2018 07:35AM ● Published by Louisa Asseo
Dr. Louisa Asseo, owner of Oasis Veterinary Hospital, 6635 Alhambra Ave, Suite 100, 925.954.8087
“Bad Putty Tat”
Growing up, I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons and seeing the Looney Tunes character Sylvester the Cat hunt and attack Tweety Bird during almost every episode. The cute little songbird always managed to outsmart the “bad putty tat.” If only that were true in reality.
Cats were once kept as “mousers” for rodent control; however, most cats in our area are well-fed house cats rather than members of the “working class.” Allowing these cats to hunt outdoors presents a threat to rodents, lizards, small snakes, and most detrimentally, to songbirds. Beyond being a pleasure to watch and listen to, birds play several important roles in the ecosystem, providing natural pest control in gardens, farms, and other places, and promoting plant reproduction as pollinators and seed dispersers.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, “In the United States alone, outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year.” That number is really high! However, can we really blame the cats? Hunting is a normal behavior for them.
As a dedicated cat owner and an amateur bird watcher, I find this to be a conundrum. Ideally, we would support the cats’ normal behaviors while protecting our feathered friends. The best method to prevent hunting is to keep our cats indoors. Playing with your cat and offering food and treats in toys that simulate hunting behavior can decrease the drive to go outdoors and hunt.
If your cat must go outdoors, there are some simple things we can do to help birds. Placing a collar with bells on your cat can help warn the birds that danger is around the corner. When placing collars on your cat, it is important to make sure they are fitted well and not too tight, and it’s crucial that they have safety features such as elastic banding or break-away clasps in case your cat gets tied up by the collar.
Alternatively, Birdsbesafe® makes a collar consisting of brightly colored fabric attached to a cat-safe breakaway collar. By relying on the songbirds’ ability to see bright colors, these collars can alert the birds of impending danger. These collars are also equipped with a reflective strip for increased safety for your cat at night. Best of all, the collars look quite fashionable!
Aside from collars, there are some other things we should consider. Most birds forage during dawn and dusk. Restricting outdoor access for cats during these times can help minimize their impact on songbird populations. If you have bird feeders in your yard, place them 5-6 feet from the ground, away from other structures such as fences, trees, or bushes so your cat cannot hide and wait for the unsuspecting bird to come by for a meal.
With a few simple changes, we can make giant strides towards protecting an important part of our ecosystem while at the same time enriching the lives of our furry companions. Let’s help our cats (and our songbirds) all live healthier, happier lives.