Categories: predatory behaviour

Cat Eats a Bird

When a cat eats a bird it will sometimes pluck the bird’s feathers beforehand. That, though, is a simplistic statement because it seems that it is more complicated than that. The same or very similar methods are employed by both domestic and wild cats. This is no surprise because a domestic cat behaves like a wild cat once it is out of the back door! The wild is definitely in him/her. The urge to pluck the feathers of a bird caught as prey is hard wired in all cats.

Now, what do I do next?!

When the bird is small, a cat will put up with the feathers and eat the lot except the wing feathers (primary feathers) and tail. Also sometimes the beak and gall bladder are left. The beak is hard and the gall bladder bitter.

Bird feathers, then, are not a part of prey that provides nutrition to the cat (although they may provide some roughage). When a domestic cat eats a bird the size of a thrushes and blackbirds (see below – photo by by innpictime) they are partially plucked before starting to eat and then plucked piecemeal as feeding progresses. In other words it is not done systematically. Bigger birds are plucked more systematically before starting to feed.

However the plucking mannerisms of the wildcats varies substantially. The first point worth making about the wild cats in this respect is that the wildcats in the Americas use a different technique to those from Asia! In the Americas the cat pulls the feathers off in a vertical straight line movement while in Asia a zigzag movement is employed. Why is that, I ask? Well I am going to guess that one reason is that the birds that are preyed upon in Asia by the smaller wild cats have feathers that are more firmly fixed. The zigzag action would undoubtedly be more efficient. It may simply be that the birds are on average bigger. Bigger birds may have feathers that are held in place more firmly. Or it may be that the observations were misleading. Larger feathers may have been removed with the more efficient technique while the smaller ones simply tugged out.

Secondly, wildcats species vary in their plucking habits. The chart below describes some of the techniques employed by a selection of wild cats:

Cat SpeciesRangePlucking Preferences
OcelotCentral and South AmericaCaptive ocelots were observed to pluck the feathers from all birds even small ones. The ocelot is a medium sized cat.
BobcatNorth AmericaIn captivity bobcats infrequently pluck the feathers of small birds. Large birds are plucked but less thoroughly than the ocelot and puma (mountain lion). They start at the head. Domestic cats eat the head of rodent first.
African Golden CatAfricaCaptive cats always pluck the bird first.
Black-footed CatSouthern AfricaSmall birds are not plucked first but larger birds are partially but lightly plucked before feeding. These are observations of cats in the wild. Their behaviour may be modified by a greater eagerness to feed due to scarcity of prey and to avoid being preyed upon which may in turn make them less concerned about feathers.
CaracalAfrica, eastern AsiaCaptive cat observations show that caracals pluck feather before eating. In the wild, however, small birds are not plucked except for a few feathers and the whole bird is consumed. The primary feathers of larger birds are not eaten.
LeopardAfrica and AsiaLeopards pluck all birds even small ones. This would seem to apply to captive cats and cats in the wild. In fact leopards lick the fur off mammals before feeding. Leopards are particular.
PumaThe AmericasPumas usually pluck feathers from birds and also sometimes hair from prey.

When a domestic cat eats a bird the feathers can get caught up on the tongue and in the mouth. In order to remove them the cat will shake its head. It might also spit and make licking movements to remove stubborn feathers from its mouth. The cat might also lick its fur. The feathers stuck on its tongue will then come off.

One last point. A number of people think that feral cats slaughter untold numbers of birds. The truth is we don’t really know how many and the cat should not be persecuted as a result. Furthermore it is entirely natural. We need to ask what we can do about our behaviour to reduce the incidences of abandoned and unneutered cats. We need to get a handle on this. See: How Feral Cats Affect Wildlife.


  • Wild Cats Of The World – Sunquists
  • Cat Watching – Morris

Cat eats a bird – Photos: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.

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Cat Eats a Bird

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Sep 17, 2009 A mother cat’s lesson
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Sorry – I forgot to fill in my name once more. No need for anonymity here. 😉

Sep 16, 2009 A mother cat’s lesson
by: Anonymous

Many years ago I had a cat with kittens. Once the time came for the kittens to start eating “real” food, the mother cat brought them a dead bird she had caught in the garden.

I didn’t like the idea of having dead animals lying around the house, so I immediately threw it into the garbage bin. The cat went out once more and in no more than five minutes brought another dead bird.

I realized that as long as I’d keep confiscating her prey, she would just go get another bird as easy as catching her play mouse. She had made her point and the kittens were allowed to keep the kill this time. I think she caught a couple more over the next days and then that phase was over.

Except for this one time she was not in the habbit of catching birds, but in her mind the kittens had to be taught how to deal with feathered food. And I learned not to interfere with a mother cat’s lessons ever again.

Yes, it’s a cruel World and sometimes cats will kill birds, but it’s mainly the weak, sick or not-so-smart ones that get caught. Where I live, the magpie for many years have been accused of robbing other birds’ nests, but actually research has shown that there are just as many songbirds in gardens with magpies as in gardens without. The number of birds in an area is determined by many factors and (as Ruth mentions) natural habitat, pollution etc is of much more importance than the cats.

Sep 16, 2009 Cats and birds
by: Ruth

What an interesting article ! We live opposite an embankment with lots of trees and plants and a plentiful supply of mice for our cats to hunt but occasionally they do catch a bird. Walter brings his to the garden,usually dead and just dumps it for the mortuary attendant(me) to bury. But Jozef sometimes brings them home alive,in which case I let him in, open all windows and doors and the birdie flies out as he opens his mouth and announces it’s a gift for us.If he brings a dead one, yes he plucks it exactly as you described,but never eats it,nor does Walter if Jo goes off and leaves it ‘oven ready’ Is that because they are well fed and have got used to not having to worry about their next meal ?
In my opinion,cats have nothing to do with the decline of birds, it’s people who have taken their natural habitat and polluted the air to blame.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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