By Terry Deem-Reilly, Colorado Master
GardenerSM, Colorado State University
Cooperative Extension, Denver
gardeners design their gardens specifically as wildlife habitats, usually
for birds. They place trees and shrubs in optimal locations to attract,
shelter, and feed birds; situate birdbaths to be accessible; and spend
hundreds of dollars every year for the most nutritious birdseed they can
find. All too often, though, habitat gardeners find to their horror that
these efforts have provided a virtual smorgasbord for the neighborhood
cats, and the search for solutions begins.
When approaching this
problem, forget these "facts" about cats: a bell on a cat will warn birds;
well-fed cats won't hunt; and stopping an
attack will save the bird. Prey won't associate the sound of a bell with
danger, and cats hunt from instinct as well as necessity. Moreover, only
about 20 percent of birds rescued from cats will survive, as cats are
practiced killers and carry many bacteria and viruses.
The easiest solution
to bird-killing cats is to keep the cats indoors - that is, if the
offenders belong to the gardener. Neighbors may not be eager to end
Fluffy's free-ranging habits; feral cats usually cannot be caught in the
act (or caught at all, except with a good spring-action trap!) However, if
predatory cats cannot be confined, they can usually be
Remember the adage,
"the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Dogs are the cat's natural enemy and
cats will avoid a yard where a dog is in residence. Fence the yard and let
Fido run free (and bark) - but
dogs also hunt, so keep them from areas where birds will feed and
A squirt gun aimed at
an invader is effective, if the cat is caught in the act of stalking.
(Cats must associate the punishment with the crime for this technique to work.) A device that squirts
water when activated by a motion detector is even better because it's not
necessary to catch the cat yourself; many garden supply catalogs feature
Citrus peels or
orange oil can be sprinkled under or adjacent to the feeders or bath. Cats
dislike the smell of lemons and oranges. Chicken wire can be laid on the
ground, as cats don't like to walk over it. Low fencing around the
bath/feeder area will slow an attacking cat, although maintaining the lawn
around the fence can be difficult.
feeder that is enclosed in a cage so that birds can enter and feed in
safety. Install baffles below pole-mounted feeders, or hang feeders from
tree limbs (get feeders with perches that shut under the weight of a
squirrel, or you will replace one problem with another).
Plant shrubs near
enough to the bath or feeder area for birds to escape quickly if a cat
approaches, but not so near that a cat can stalk and leap before the birds
sense her presence. Ten to 15 feet is good. (One Maine Coon of this
writer's acquaintance can clear a seven-foot fence in one bound and is an
Birds breed and raise
their nestlings in the spring and early summer, so they are more active,
more distracted, and therefore easier
targets for cats. Limiting kitty's times to roam during this season may
help. Also, cat-owning neighbors may be more amenable to confining their
pets if they understand that
it's only for a few weeks.
If feral cats are the
problem, the gardener can trap the cats or ask local animal control to do
so. Traps are often available from humane societies or cat welfare groups.
Trapped feral cats can be surrendered to a shelter or pound, but if you
trap someone's pet, please return her to her owner, rather than sending
her to a shelter to be killed.
animal from following its instincts will require time and patience - keep
using the above techniques until you see results. And remember, predators
too have their place in nature.
Photos of motion detector, birdfeeder courtesy of
Other photos: Judy Sedbrook