By Mary Reilly Posted September 4, 2017
Foreword from Elisa: I found this post on a TNR group on Facebook for those actually trapping and releasing cats and thought it an interesting article. If you care for a feral colony, please comment after reading and share your experiences.
This is just what I have noticed watching colony behavior. Please remember that most of the cats I have trapped have been very rural, and isolated. I want to hear about other folks observations, but I don’t want to be “yelled at” because my experiences are different.
What I have noticed in all the colonies of 20 or more cats is that the kittens are nursed and cared for communally. Most of the females go into heat within a month of each other, and therefore drop their litters within a month of each other.
While the main caregiver to the kittens is the mother, when the mother leaves to go eat or hunt, one of the younger male cats will slide in and fully care for the kittens until she returns. If the kittens become hungry before the mother returns, one of the other mothers will feed the kittens, but leave the actual care to the surrogate male cat.
If the mother of the litter does not return, then each mother cat chooses one to two kittens to join her litter. Or if there is another mother who lost her kittens, then she will take over nursing the entire litter. Again, the surrogate male will either follow the kittens, or the mother cats may already have a male cat to help them. In which case the surrogate male will take on other duties, such as watching the more mobile kittens and making sure they don’t get into trouble. Or teaching them to hunt by playing games.
As the kittens get older, the surrogate and mother will hunt for the kittens and tear their prey up into pieces. Or the surrogate male and mother will herd the kittens up to the human created feeding stations to teach them to eat. At each feeding station any female cat will nurse any kitten from any litter and the surrogate males will help keep all the kittens together.
Each colony will have between one to three dominate male cat protectors. I have noticed that most of the kittens resemble one of those dominate cats. Those dominate male cats will not allow other cats to join the colony, and will also protect the colony from predators. I saw one dominate male attack two coyotes. He, of course, got the bad end of the encounter, but his colony escaped the ambush. (I caught him and took him to the vet and he recovered enough to live a happy life in my home.
This is all out in the woods, not the city. I have noticed similar but different behaviors for city colonies. One of which they seldom get to 20 cats like most of the colonies in the rural settling.
And yes, I spend way to much time watching cats.