How to Keep Cats From Killing Birds

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Domestic cats kill millions of birds every year. Don't let your feline contribute to the total. Here's how to keep cats from killing birds.

Anyone who owns a cat probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 90 million U.S. homes have one, making them the top house pet in the country. But many cat owners may be alarmed to discover their beloved pets pose one of the biggest threats to birds.

Studies confirm house cats, including those well-fed at home, kill millions of birds every year. This contributes to the decline in some bird species, which doesn’t sit well with birders. So it’s vital to be a responsible pet owner and learn how to keep cats from killing birds.

How Many Birds Are Killed By Cats?

Dr. Stanley Temple, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, completed a four-year study on this topic with colleague John Coleman. They looked at the impact free-ranging domestic cats have on rural wildlife.

By radio-collaring many farm cats, the researchers found in Wisconsin alone, cats kill at least 19 million songbirds and 140,000 game birds annually. Surveys from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported similar results.

How to Keep Cats From Killing Birds

Studies like these recommend cat owners keep their felines indoors at all times, but this isn’t always doable. Some cat owners argue their pets aren’t content to stay inside.

As a cat owner, I understand this concern. If your cat is used to being outdoors, it will show signs of wanting out. Perseverance pays off, though. It could take days or weeks, but eventually your cat will adapt to its pampered life indoors.

I know people who have retrained their cats to stay indoors. Without exception, they’re delighted they did. Starting with a kitten makes it easier. I’ve kept all my cats indoors from the start and they’ve never shown the desire to go outside.

Some people have success walking their feline friends with cat leashes and harnesses, but be sure you closely supervise your cat at all times.

How Cats Can Safely Watch Birds

The one negative aspect to keeping a cat indoors: It can get bored. You can easily cure the boredom by providing entertainment that’s safe and natural.

Cats and birds can coexist as long as all the cat is doing is watching the birds! Install a window perch for them, or place a cat tree near the window. Cats can still satisfy their stalking instincts by watching birds from indoors. And once you start watching the fascinating antics of backyard birds, you’ll want to protect them, too.

Make the conscious decision to keep your cat inside. Then set up bird feeders, birdbaths and natural cover for birds outside your cat’s favorite window. You’ll cater to the birds’ needs and provide endless entertainment for your cat while picking up a new hobby for yourself. Now your cat will be happy, and the birds will stay safe!

George Harrison
George Harrison is an expert about feeding and attracting birds and avian behavior. He formerly served as While serving as managing editor of National Wildlife and as a longtime contributor to Birds & Blooms.