Protecting Birds: Pet Disturbance

Ginger cat walking in woods

Pets can both help and hinder wildlife. From the point of view of wildlife and birds, many pets (and humans) are predators.

Discover our Promises

Research shows that when predators are present, birds can stop feeding, or abandon nests, eggs, and fledglings. Predator-prey relationships in the wild are natural, but the presence of domestic animals can upset the balance. This causes harm to this delicate ecosystem.


Discover our Promises

Over 27% of UK households have a cat - that is over 12 million cats! Cats take over 100 million wild animals in the UK every year, and of these at least 27 million are songbirds. Our latest research project with the University of Exeter studies the effects of predation from cats and offers practical solutions for cat owners.

Tabby and white cat in garden

For some quick tips to protect your garden songbirds from cats, see below:

  • Keep them inside. Try to keep your cat indoors during the breeding season (March-August). This will limit their effect on breeding songbirds. The most active times for wildlife are at dusk and dawn. Limiting cat activity during this time would be most beneficial.
  • Invest in an enclosure. Consider making a cat enclosure to allow your cat access to an outside space and ensure they’re kept separate from wildlife. can help your cats enjoy the outdoors and keep them safe from cars, fights with other cats and diseases.
  • Try an anti-hunting collar. Use a brightly coloured collar from
    These collars are highly effective in reducing the number of birds that are killed by domestic cats. You can also use a quick-release ID collar – these are useful if your cat gets lost and great for hanging bells to alert prey. Special bibs that hinder a cat’s hunting ability are also available.
  • Change your cat’s diet. Feeding your cat a diet that's grain free and high in meat protein has shown a reduction of over 35% in prey brought back to the home.
  • Keep your cat entertained. Playing with a fishing pole toy with your cat for just 5-10 minutes each day allows them to recreate their hunting behaviours in a safe environment. This helps to reduce prey brought home by 25%.
  • Don’t let them wander. Make sure your cat is neutered. This will reduce your cat’s desire to wander far, and reduce fighting and hunting instincts, and stop them having kittens.
  • Keep your cat healthy. Ensure your cat is vaccinated. There are many diseases that cats can transfer between wildlife. Keeping up with vaccinations, flea and worm treatments will help reduce the spread.


Discover our Promises

33% of UK households own a dog, and there are over 12.5 million dogs here in the UK.  Some dogs can be a little rough and accidentally cause harm to wildlife when charging around having fun - especially when out and about. 

  • Birds that nest on the ground and their nests are particularly vulnerable to being trodden on, so keep dogs on leads and stick to paths when out in the countryside. Get your copy of the countryside code here.
  • At home, a well-trained dog can be useful in scaring away unwanted visitors that may cause harm to the helpful wildlife in your garden.
Two dogs by river

Small Pets

Discover our Promises

Vegetarian animals such as rabbits (1.1 million), guinea pigs (0.8 million) and domestic fowl (1.2 million) are less of a problem for birds. 

If you own a small pet, make sure they are vaccinated to stop the spread of diseases.  Often, a by-product of feeding these animals is an extra food source for wildlife and birds.

Guinea pigs eating leaves

Large Pets

Discover our Promises

Larger animals like horses, pigs, goats, and sheep that are kept in buildings such as stables offer a range of food and nesting opportunities for many birds. 

  • Spilled food is an excellent extra resource for wildlife.
  • Dung makes a great resource for insects, as well as an addition to compost heaps and gardens. 
  • Stables offer a myriad of places for insects to live and birds to make nests. Swifts, house martins and swallows are often found at stables.  The animals at the stables attract insects for food, the human presence reduces predators, and they make a safe place to access and nest.
Horse in stable
Discover our Promises


Cecchetti, 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. 2020.12.044

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

Cecchetti, 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): ecs2.3737

Cecchetti, 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

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

BACK TO help Songbirds at homeBACK TO How can I help Songbirds?