Research Project

Cats, their owners and the environment

Discover our Promises
An estimated 11 million domestic cats live in the UK. Their presence as companion animals provides many of us with much needed love and company, but understanding the impact that cats have on our songbird populations is a crucial area of research.

The Project

Our research project working with the University of Exeter started in March 2017, funding a PhD student and a postdoctoral researcher for three years. The project focused on understanding more about cat behaviour and cat owner attitudes to hunting; so that we could move beyond the social conflict that has plagued the issue of cat predation on wildlife.

SongBird Survival partnered with a citizen scientist and an ecologist to identify potential mitigation measures to hunting behavior, without impeding on cat welfare.

This highly collaborative project looked specifically at:

  • Perspectives of cat owners and how they felt about roaming and hunting
  • Understanding where and how far cats roam by using GPS collars to track their movements
  • Testing the use of collar deterrents (bells and bibs), puzzle feeders, food and play to mitigate rates of hunting and minimise the impact on populations of songbirds, small mammals, and reptiles that cats predate

We understand cat owners are likely to want to help their local wildlife including how to protect birds from cats, but they just don’t know where to start!

iCatCare’s Head of Cat Advocacy, Dr Sarah Ellis, said:

“The finding that many UK cat owners actually care a great deal about wildlife conservation and their cats’ impact on it, suggests that some owners are receptive to employing cat friendly ways of reducing hunting. The right interventions could improve wildlife conservation efforts, maintain good cat mental-wellbeing, and, at the same time improve the cat-human relationship."

The Results

  • 5 types of cat owners were identified by our study; which one are you? Tell us on IG, Twitter or Facebook
  • Cats who have unrestricted access to the outdoors had home ranges 75% larger, roam 46% further from their home and have a 31% higher daily distance than cats who are confined for at least some of the day. This means more time hunting and a higher likelihood of getting in an accident.
  • 5-10 minutes of play that simulated hunting behaviours reduced prey brought home by 25%. Over 75% of the cat owners who participated in this experiment said they would continue playing to reduce their cats hunting and for some fun bonding time!
  • Our study used Lily’s kitchen wet and dry food to test if the content of cat food affected hunting tendencies. A protein content that is gained from meat instead of plant sources was found to reduce the number of prey brought home by 36%.
  • Isotope analysis of cat whiskers showed that only a very small proportion of a domestic cat’s diet comes from prey items that are hunted. What the cat dragged in isn’t driven by hunger, but by instinct.
  • The use of BirdBeSafe collars reduced consumed prey (including birds), from 11.39% of the diet, to only 4.7%. This shows BirdBeSafe collars do stop the number of birds successfully caught and eaten by cats.
Cats and Their Owners - Infographic  steps - SongBird Survival
Cats and their Owners Infographic 2 - Exeter AC

The Solutions

Remember that the best way to protect our precious ecosystem if you have a cat at home, is to PECK:

  1. 1. PLAY with your pet cats for 5-10 minutes each day to stimulate them and reduce the number of prey brought home by 25%. Top tip: try placing your cat wand next to the kettle and give it a whirl whilst it’s boiling!
  2. 2. EAT well by providing your cat with premium meat-rich protein foods to reduce prey brought home by 36%.
  3. 3. COLLAR your cat with a brightly coloured collar, such as a BirdsBeSafe. These collars reduce birds captured by over 40%!
  4. 4. KEEP IN your cat during the night if you can from #DuskTillDawn to give our birds a chance through the breeding season. Other options include catios and fencing by ProtectaPet that keep cats in gardens and reduce roaming.

These tiny acts can help to save our feathered friends and don’t impact the welfare of your cats. If we can all do our bit and work together to tackle the range of issues facing our songbirds today, we can reverse the decline.

For more tips and advice on how best to encourage birds to your garden, click here.

Meet our scientists

What is a Songbird?

Discover our Promises
Dr Sarah Crowley


Sarah gained her PhD from the University of Exeter in 2017, and worked as a Postdoctoral researcher before becoming a senior lecturer.

Dr Martina Cecchetti

Postdoctoral researcher - University of Exeter

Martina Cecchetti has put in so much work on our study into Cats and Their Owners, alongside Dr Sarah Crowley and Prof. Robbie Mcdonald on the University of Exeter team.

Professor Robbie McDonald


Professor McDonald is Chair in Natural Environment at the University of Exeter. He leads the University's partnership with the National Wildlife Management Centre as part of a Wildlife Research Co-Operative.



Ceccheti, M., Crowley, S.L., McDonald, J., McDonald, R.A. (2022) Owner-ascribed personality profiles distinguish domestic cats that capture and bring home wild animal prey. Applied Animal Behavious Science. 105774.

Ceccheti, M., Crowley, S.L.,Goodwin, C.E.D., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Provision of High Meat Content Food and Object Play Reduce Predation of Wild Animals by Domestic Cats Felis catus. Current Biology. 31:1-5.

Ceccheti, M., Crowley, S.L., Wilson-Aggarwal, J., Nelli, L., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Spatial behavior of domestic cats and the effects of outdoor access restrictions and interventions to reduce predation of wildlife. Conservation Science and Practice. 4(2):  

Ceccheti, M., Crowley, S.L., Goodwin, C.E.D., Cole, H., McDonald, J., Bearhop, S., McDonald, R.A. (2021) Contributions of wild and provisioned foods to the diets of domestic cats that depredate wild animals. Ecosphere. 12(9):  

Ceccheti, M., Crowley, S.L., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Drivers and facilitators of hunting behaviour in domestic cats and options for management. Mammal Review. 51(3): 307-322.  

Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. 18(10): 544-549.  

Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2020) Our Wild Companions: Domestic cats in the Anthropocene. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 35(6): 477-483.  

Crowley, S.L., Cecchetti, M., McDonald, R.A. (2019) Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners. People and Nature. 1(1):18-30.

Related Studies

Beckerman, A.P., Boots, M. and Gaston, K.J., 2007. Urban bird declines and the fear of cats. Animal Conservation, 10(3), pp.320-325.

Geiger, M., Kistler, C., Mattmann,P., Jenni, L., Hegglin, D., Bontadina, F. (2022) Colorful Collar-Covers andBells Reduce Wildlife Predation by Domestic Cats in a Continental European Setting. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 10:

McDonald, J.L., Maclean, M., Evans, M.R. and Hodgson, D.J., 2015. Reconciling actual and perceived rates of predation by domestic cats. Ecology and evolution, 5(14), pp.2745-2753.

PFMA (2022, March 18). Pet population 2021. Pet Food Manufacturers Association.

Santosde Assis, L., Mills, D.S. (2021) Introducing a Controlled Outdoor Environment Impacts Positively in Cat Welfare and Owner Concerns: The Use of a New Feline Welfare Assessment Tool. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 7:

Thomas, R.L., Fellowes, M.D. and Baker, P.J., 2012. Spatio-temporal variation in predation by urban domestic cats (Felis catus) and the acceptability of possible management actions in the UK. PLoS One, 7(11),p.e49369.

Woods, M., McDonald, R.A., Harris,S. (2003) Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Review. 33: 174– 188.

See our publication library for more of our research.