Here are 8 suggestions on how to be the caregiver of an indoor/outdoor and feed wild birds while minimising the predation of the birds that you feed by the cat that you care for! Note the obvious: keeping a cat indoor full-time is the obvious and total solution. The world is drifting towards that state of affairs but in the meantime, these are my thoughts on the title. What are yours?
This is a graded response in terms of how effective and how expensive. I’ll start with the most expensive.
Nowadays cat containment or confinement fences are gaining in popularity. You have probably heard of them. You erect a fence with a large overhang pointing inwards around your backyard (back garden). This allows your cat to go outside in a safe way. You can’t have trees near the fence and some (very few) cats can get over it, but it is very rare. The fence I used was a wire mesh.
You could erect this fence over three-quarters of your backyard and in the remaining quarter you could have wild bird feeding stations of all kinds. They would not need to be high up to protect the birds from cats because there would be no cats in that space.
That is the first suggestion, but it is not cheap. Potentially, it’ll be in the thousands of dollars or pounds depending on the garden’s size and fence type.
Along the same lines you could partially confine your cat by locking the cat flap (door) at the times that (1) you feed the birds (2) the birds expect to be fed and (2) your cat is likely to be inactive and unconcerned about being locked inside.
I am not a great fan of locking cat flaps as cats get used to barging through them. And although domestic cats are crepuscular, they are active day and night with a preference, normally for night particularly dawn and dusk as stated.
A locked cat flap might in the extreme lead to an injury or a broken cat flap as he tries to force his way out.
Leave the cat flap open but time the feeding of the birds to those moments when you know that your cat will almost certainly be asleep or snoozing. Both cats and caregivers develop routines. You can build on these routines to choose the best moment to feed the wild birds while minimising the chance of your cat developing the urge to hunt them. This is about timing and controlling the timing as you can create the schedule for bird and cat feeding.
Fourth suggestion – about feeding
Diet can have an impact of the desire to hunt according to an Exeter University study. A domestic cat on a 12-week diet rich in meat protein and without plant protein and grain will likely kill 36% fewer animals than a cat on a dry kibble diet.
Fifth suggestion – about play
Playing with a cat is always about play hunting. Hunting is the motivator for a cat to play. They want to chase and kill the toy. Toys should be killable and not plastic. The same study revealed something that should make sense to all cat owners: you burn off some of a cat’s desire to hunt in play-hunting.
Playing with your cat for 5-10 minutes per day reduced killing behaviour by 25%.
Along the same lines as the 5th suggestion, if you feed your cat using a puzzle feeder (a form of play hunting) it reduced killing behaviour by 33%.
Forgetting all the others, if you use bird feeders which are high enough and as near as possible totally inaccessible to a cat you can feed birds and care for a cat at the same time without your cat harming the birds.
This is a well-known one: placing a brightly coloured collar on your cat when they go outside (see link below). They look a little gross and silly, but they’ve been proved to be the most effective anti-predation wearable item for a domestic cat on the market, beating bells on collars comprehensively. Bells on collar are not very effective as cats learn to stop the bell ringing by keeping their body still!