Condemning cat owners for their pet’s hunting habits has become a national pastime. Yet, whether or not we think cats are appropriate pets, many of us already have a much-loved moggie, and the fact is, it will be with us for a good number of years to come. So how best can we keep the birds in our backyard safe while still enjoying the company of our fur-baby?
The truth about bell-collars
If you’re fitting your cat will a bell-collar, good on you! Research suggests that bell-collars reduce bird deaths by around 40%. However, there are a few tips you should follow in order to maximise this success while also keeping your cat safe. Firstly, steer clear of collars with an elastic insert (they are stretchy enough that your moggie may be able to get a leg through, and become immobilised). Next, fit the collar firmly so it will stay on the cat (when the collar is fastened, you should be able to get only 1 or 2 fingers underneath it). Always check the fit once the cat is relaxed as a nervous cat can tense its muscles when its collar is being fitted, making the collar loose once the cat is less stressed. Bells also don’t stay on collars forever. Over time, the fastening will wear and the bell will drop off, so check (each grooming session, for example) that the bell is still in place. Birds soon become used to the sound of a bell, so consider having two or three sets of collars, each with different sounding bells, and chop and change regularly.
The latest bird-safe collars
Recent research suggests that brightly coloured ‘ruffle-style’ collars may be significantly more effective at warning birds of a cat’s approach than a bell collar (it’s all to do with bird vision). Why not do your own research by making a DIY bird-safe collar for your moggie? You can find a pattern for these collars here.
‘Standardise’ your garden
Cats are professionals when it comes to staging an ambush – but to do that they need a place to hide. If you want to help keep backyard birds as safe as possible, prune your shrubs so at least half a metre of trunk is clear of foliage – giving your cat no place to hide beneath them. Better still, go in for ‘standard’ shrubs – the sort that look so elegant with their long, exposed trunks and a clipped tuft of foliage on top.
Net the vege bed
Birds like nothing better than to scuff around in disturbed soil looking for a worm. Unfortunately, that makes the vege patch, with its low-growing foliage, prime hunting ground for both your avian friends and your cat. Do both your veges and your backyard birds a favour by purchasing strawberry netting to cover the edibles. Peg it down very carefully so that it is stretched tight along all edges and will not catch on birds’ dainty claws. Inspect morning and night to be doubly sure no birds are caught.
Ban the birdbath
We’ve all heard the advice to raise our birdbaths so cats can’t reach the bathers. But did you realise that cats can leap to almost 2 metres high? If you’re going to raise your birdbath beyond 2 metres, do you really still want it in your backyard? If the answer is ‘yes’, be sure to place the bath where it can be easily observed from inside your home (outside the kitchen or living room window, for instance). And to be even more careful, place the bathing water in a bowl which can be filled when your cat is indoors, and emptied when moggie is outside.