Two Little Known Facts About Cats Preying on Birds

I’ll keep this fairly short because I am not too sure how relevant it is to the cat/bird debate. There are two facts that relate to it which might interest some people. It concerns America because it concerns the coyote.

Bird in hand
My Gabriel caught this bird (a sparrow?) and I saved it and placed it outside but he he found it again and killed it.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The coyote is an effective predator of outside cats. It is a reason why cats are kept inside. Consequently outside cats stay away from coyotes. No surprise there.

Cats stick to areas near their homes. Most cats don’t wander far. In America the domestic cat avoids the areas where coyotes live. A study employed camera traps (camera on trees etc. which fire automatically on detecting movement) to track the movements of wild animals and domestic cats in backyards, urban ‘woodlots’ and protected natural areas.

More than 50,000 photos were taken of coyotes and other wildlife such as deer, in natural protected areas. There were only 55 photos of domestic cats amongst them all.

In residential, urban areas where coyotes are also found, domestic cats confined themselves to residential yards. The cats are steering clear of coyotes. Domestic cats were 300 times more likely to be in a residential yard than in protected areas.

One of the protected area had no coyotes. In that area there were cats.

All this means that cats kill usually birds in urban areas and back yards. Does that have any impact on the statistics of cat predation on birds? Do certain species of birds favour the urban environment and are, therefore, more prone to being preyed upon by cats? I am not sure but it may be a significant.

The second little known fact about cats preying on birds is that city or urban birds have developed different behaviors to adapt to this environment. I guess this happened over centuries of being preyed upon by cats and other animals in urban areas.

Birds produce alarm calls more frequently. When captured birds are less aggressive and ‘remain more paralyzed’. They also lose more feathers.

I have not seen and can’t find the original study material for more detail but it would appear that urban birds have developed strategies to improve survival from predation by roaming domestic cats in the urban environment.

Cat murdering a bird
Cat “murdering” a bird. This is not my Gabriel but a photo on Flickr.

As birds are already towards the bottom of the list of favoured prey of the cat (see below), these strategies may well alter the cat-killing-bird statistics. I hope ornithologists take note.

Sources: LA Times referring to a study by Roland Kays, a zoologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Science Daily referring to a study by Juan Diego Ibáñez-Álamo, researcher at the University of Granada (UGR) and Anders Pape Møller from Paris-Sud University (France).

P.S. My cat Gabriel is a good hunter and it worries me because I don’t like to see animals killed but I like to see natural cat behavior. I have to accept it. He has killed 3 birds.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

8 thoughts on “Two Little Known Facts About Cats Preying on Birds”

  1. Ruth (Monty's Mom)

    I feel just as you do, Michael. I love to see Monty being who he is outside in the yard. He’s a predator. There is no doubt that the desire to hunt and kill prey is hard wired into him. When he is sitting outside next to the garage, partially hidden by some plants that grow there, he isn’t seeking a shady spot, he isn’t enjoying the summer breezes, he isn’t there for the scenery. He is there waiting for some hapless creature to come around the corner, unaware of Monty’s presence. Our yard will be full of wildlife– squirrels, birds, chipmunks, rabbits– but the second I open the door to let Monty out into our fenced yard every other living thing scatters. I hope that it limits his predation somewhat that he is confined to our yard, and perhaps the animals do know to avoid him somewhat, as he is always in hiding in the same places. Once in awhile there must be a new comer to our yard, and he is able to catch a small creature.

    He has caught several birds and recently has started eating them. He’ll eat about half the bird before he gets tired of it. Jeff recently insisted that Monty be put on a diet and right after that I found Monty outside in the rain eating half a dead bird. He looked at me as if to say, “See what you made me have to do? Now could you defeather this and cut it up and put it in my bowl, please?”

  2. In all my years, I think that I have only had 2 cats that captured a bird.
    What I see is that birds are pretty much devoid in areas where there are several cats. That applies to colonies as well as around my home. But, I don’t do anything to attract birds. I don’t believe in bird feeders or throwing seed on the ground. That, in my mind, is just an invitation to bird suicide.
    My outside cats are more interested in chasing lizards or tree frogs but rarely catch any.
    However, rolling around on a dead, flat frog in the road is most entertaining for them, much to my dismay.

    1. I acknowledge that some of my cats have caught birds, but that is one of the roles nature designed them for.

      I feed birds because I like animals and try to give wildlife a helping hand wherever possible. In the mornings I feed the birds one hour before I allow any of the cats out and I put out more food after the cats have been brought indoors for the night. I’m hoping that by providing a reliable, extra food source, that I’ve helped some birds who might otherwise have starved in tough times.

      1. You strike a nice balance. Sensible. I think we have to accept it (cat preying on birds). We can’t agree to have cat companions and at the same time not agree to their natural behavior. That does not work.

    2. Ruth (Monty's Mom)

      Ha, ha, the dead, flat frog toy. That is hilarious. Monty had half a dead bird for awhile because he killed one and ate half of it before winter and then before I had a chance to bury it the ground froze and it snowed and I forgot about it. Not him. Come spring he found it and every time I’d let him out there he’d go crazy playing with his half a dead bird. My husband finally did bury what was left of it.

  3. Interesting information on cat predation. It makes sense to cat lovers that they would avoid areas populated by coyotes (or other animals who prey on cats), but I doubt that has occurred to those carrying out U.S. studies into cat predation.

    The U.K.’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds state on their web site that those bird species which have undergone the most serious population declines, rarely encounter cats in their natural habitat. Do we know if U.S. studies reveal a similar pattern?

    Cats mainly hunt birds in gardens. Ironically U.K. populations of bird species that are most abundant in gardens tend to be increasing, despite the presence of cats. Blue tits, for example, the second most frequently caught birds, have increased by over a quarter across the U.K. since 1966.

    Apart from alarm calls, I’d not heard of the other strategies birds have developed to avoid cats. It makes sense that they’ve evolved ways to try and stay one step ahead of cats where possible. I feed wild birds in my garden and have many regular visitors. I’ve observed that they seem to disappear whenever Charley is around, but they seem to understand that Horace’s hunting days are over and aren’t bothered by his presence. I recently watched a blackbird land just a couple of feet away from Horace. For a moment or two they simply stared at each other, then Horace turned his back and walked off to find a quieter place for sunbathing.

  4. Sandra Murphey, No. CA, USA

    Would you consider using any kind of warning device to help protect the birds? Even placing thin strips of material or plastic that would blow in the wind, or foil pans that may keep them way from Gabriel’s usual hunting areas might be helpful. That’s the kind of thing that farmers use to keep them away from crops and fruit trees.

    1. Not a bad idea Sandy. I’ll consider that. I’d have to get permission from the committee and it might upset others because they like to have birds around. But I’ll certainly think about it.

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