Cats & birds: how to protect garden birds from cats

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

A cat catches a bird: unfortunately, a common image in our gardens. But what are the ways to protect birds from cats in the garden? Can cats be weaned off their bird-catching habit? And what to do with birds rescued from cats?

cat with freshly killed bird
Cats and birds are not friends [Photo: Losonsky/ Shutterstock.com]

Free-roaming domestic cats are often disliked by bird lovers. Although the popular cuddly tigers are not necessarily more dangerous than any other predator, their large numbers make them a real problem in home gardens. Naturally, however, we do not want to demonise domestic cats because many cat lovers are also bird lovers and wish to protect both their garden birds and provide their domestic cats with sufficient exercise. For this reason, we have put together some tips for a cat-safe garden and also explain how to break cats of the bird catching habit a bit and what to do with a bird rescued from cats.

Cats and birds: protect bird house and co.

Whether it is your own cat or your neighbour’s, having a small predator regularly prowling around the garden means a lot of stress and uncertainty for our native garden birds. This is especially true during the breeding season, as young birds are particularly easy prey and bird parents are disturbed by predators during breeding care because they must fly detours to the nest and foraging is impeded.

cat sitting next to bird feeder
Cats pose a problem especially during the breeding season [Photo: HildeAnna/ Shutterstock.com]

You can make life easier for wild birds in a cat-rich environment with the following tips:

  • Secure feeders and nest boxes: do not put food out on the ground, and instead offer it in hanging feeders or on elevated feeders that cats cannot reach. The same applies to nesting boxes; these are well placed on a smooth facade at a height of at least 2 m, for example.
  • Counter with scents: Cats can also be kept out of the garden or away from certain places by unpleasant odours. For this purpose, there are both special litter powders and helpful plants, such as the so-called ‘scaredy cat plant’ (Plectranthus caninus), which is supposed to keep cats several metres away but appears odourless to us.
  • Provide shelter: in dense or even thorn-covered bushes, birds can quickly find protection from predators, and free-breeding species can even find safe nesting sites.
  • Secure your trees: to keep cats from climbing around in trees, there are special wire belts you can attach to the trunk. Alternatively, you can also plant thorny bushes here or wrap blackberry vines around the trees, for example.
  • Owners of outdoor cats should also make sure their cats are neutered and marked to avoid uncontrolled breeding and release. In addition, if possible, at least during the breeding season from March to June, you could somewhat limit or better supervise free access.
branches with long white thorns
Thorns are a reliable barrier for cats [Photo: Aashish M Choudhary/ Shutterstock.com]

Can cats be weaned off their bird-catching habit?

The hunting instinct of cats is a primal instinct that cannot be trained away so easily. Although domestic cats do not depend on wild animals for food, hunting satisfies their need for exercise and their urge to play, which is extremely important for the psychological well-being of the predatory cats. So anyone who tries to actively discourage cats from hunting is not doing them any good in the long run. Instead, however, you can try to satisfy the urge to play elsewhere by playing with them yourself and keeping them busy. This can reduce the hunting instinct.

Cat brings live bird: what to do?

If you manage to rescue a wild bird from the clutches of a domestic cat, you should first get an idea of its condition. If the bird does not fly away immediately and appears apathetic but has no external injuries, you should place it in a box with air holes in a dark, quiet place. Often the birds are then in shock and need rest to recover. When the animal starts to stir and tries to fly away, you can release it. However, if the animal has not recovered even after several hours, or if you notice external injuries or broken limbs right at the start, you should contact a veterinarian, a bird sanctuary, or a suitable foster home. This is because caring for injured birds requires experience and expertise and usually goes wrong in the hands of amateurs – even if it is well-intentioned. Since even minor injuries to the bird can allow bacteria from cat saliva to enter, seeing an avian veterinarian is very important. This person can administer antibiotics to the bird and prevent things from getting worse.

injured bird on paving stones
Injured birds need professional help [Photo: Kev Gregory/ Shutterstock.com]

Not only cats but also diseases and parasites can make life difficult for birds. We present the most common diseases and parasites of birds here.

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