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6 ways to stop your cat hunting birds

April 6, 2024
Paddy McCleave

6 ways to stop your cat hunting birds

Cat owners around the world will be no stranger to waking up to feathery and furry gifts on the doorstep delivered by our proud feline friends. While you may have become accustomed to this, it can be distressing and upsetting, especially if you wish to attract birds and small mammals to your garden. Cats hunt, it’s an instinct they haven’t lost despite being fed and looked after by us. Your cat won’t stop trying to hunt and nor should you tell it off for doing so, however reducing this hunting behaviour is essential to protect our birds. Cats pose a serious threat to birds, which can have a knock-on effect on our threatened ecosystems (find out why birds are important here) and cat owners have a responsibility to reduce their cat’s hunting success.

Why do cats hunt and what can you do to reduce your cat’s hunting?

You may be wondering why, despite being well-fed and looked after, your cat still disappears at night in search of prey. Well, don’t worry, it is unlikely that your cat is hunting for food, instead their hunting instinct drives them to attack small animals. They may also be driven to hunt for fun or to impress or teach their feeble human owners!  As a cat owner, you may feel a responsibility to help bird populations, enjoy watching and listening to the birds in your garden, or maybe you are just sick of clearing up dead animals in your house. Whatever the reason, here are 6 ways to stop your cat killing birds, without impacting the welfare and happiness of your cat.

1. Collars

Several varieties of collars can be put on your cat, which can all help reduce hunting behaviour by up to 25%. As birds rely heavily on sight for detecting predators, the most effective option to stop your cat from killing birds is a multicoloured collar that not only alerts birds to your cat's presence but can also make your cat look quite dashing! Studies have suggested that BirdsBeSafe multicoloured collars can reduce the number of prey brought home by over 50%, making it one of the most effective options for reducing the number of birds your cat kills. The most well-known option is a small bell that can be fitted to an existing collar which rings as the cat moves and warns prey of an approaching hunter. The effectiveness of these bells is up for debate, however, recent studies have suggested they are effective in reducing your cats hunting success ​(Hall et al., 2015; Pemberton & Ruxton, 2020)​. Be careful when choosing a bell, as your cat's claw can become trapped in cheaper, low-quality bells when scratching.

2. Change your cat's food

Although your cat is not likely to be hunting because it is hungry, it may be hunting for some nutrients that it is not getting from its food. Much store-bought cat food is low in proteins from meat, instead, they are padded out with grain and cheap proteins. Changing your cat's diet to include proteins that come from meat has been shown to reduce hunting by 36% ​(Cecchetti, Crowley, Goodwin, et al., 2021)​. Always be careful when changing your cat's diet as sudden changes may cause tummy upsets! Information on feeding and changing your cat's diet can be found at Lily’s Kitchen.  

3. Play with your Cat!

This is probably the easiest and most fun way to stop your cat from killing birds, but it is just as effective. Stimulating your cat, both physically and mentally, through play or puzzle feeders can quench their thirst for hunting without damaging anything or simply make them too tired to bother hunting birds! Playing with toys such as fake mice or feather toys or hiding dry food around your house can keep your cat happy without the need to hunt outside. For this to be most effective, it is crucial to play with your cat as often as possible, 5-10 minutes of daily play can reduce hunting by up to 25% ​(Cecchetti, Crowley, Goodwin, et al., 2021)​.  

4. Keep your cat indoors

While you may be able to train a kitten to stay indoors, training an older cat to change after a lifetime of being outdoors may be very difficult. However, keeping your cat indoors during busy times for wildlife, such as dawn and dusk when birds are singing and feeding, can reduce the number of birds they kill. By bringing your cat indoors before the sun sets and keeping it inside until the sun is fully risen the next day you can really help the wildlife in your garden! This is especially important during the breeding season as fledglings who are not yet able to fly effectively are very vulnerable to cat predation. If you are a new owner, training your kitten to walk with a harness is a great way of getting them outside while reducing the risk to wildlife. Not only will doing this protect wildlife, but it may also protect your cat by reducing fighting and road accidents ​(Cecchetti, Crowley, & McDonald, 2021; Crowley et al., 2019)​.

5. Neutering

It is advised that cat owners neuter their pets to avoid acquiring kittens that they cannot look after. Another added benefit of neutering and spaying (especially males) is that their territory size decreases and level of activity decreases which will both lead to decreases in hunting ​(Cafazzo et al., 2019)​.  

6. Raise your bird tables and feeders

There are ways to reduce the number of birds killed by cats without interfering with your cat too much. To protect the birds that come to feed in your garden, raise your feeders off the ground, out of reach of your cat, or buy a table with a rim that cannot be accessed by the cat. To stop your cat from climbing nearby trees to get to the feeders, cover the base of the tree with something as simple as cling film. This will make the tree too slippery for your cat to climb.  

In the UK birds are one of the few remaining fragments of a once rich natural world. They provide us with a connection to the natural world that can be seen through our kitchen windows, and we all have a responsibility to protect them. By changing the ways, we look after our pets we can allow our beloved feline friends and birds to live in harmony.  

Paddy McCleave

Paddy is a graduate from the University of Glasgow, where he completed both his undergraduate degree and Master of Research. During his studies Paddy became interested in science communication and education and strives to ensure scientific research and ideas are available to everyone. By writing and creating blogs and content he hopes to provide a platform for the public to keep up-to-date with current research.

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