We don’t really know the effect domestic cats have on bird populations, but is there anything cat owners can do to help reduce the number of birds they kill? Could a ‘cat bib’ be the answer?
Like many gardeners, I love to hear birds singing in my garden and I try to help encourage them by providing nest boxes, food and water. But I have to say that I’m not seeing as many birds nowadays.
And I think cats might be one of the causes for this decline, as they’re estimated to kill up to 55 million birds in Britain every year.
Your views on cats killing birds
Although we don’t actually know how badly cats affect overall bird populations, many of you have told us you’re frustrated by cats killing birds like Which? Convo commenter Gill:
‘This morning I found the [neighbour’s] cat in my garden with a female duck whose neck it had broken. On previous occasions I have chased it off from the ducks, but have also had a headless rabbit, a dove and a young blackbird that I’ve had to dispose of. Today was the final straw and I will talk to my neighbours about them taking some responsible action.’
Recent research in Sheffield even shows that the mere presence of cats (researchers used a stuffed tabby) causes blackbirds to reduce the amount of food they provide for their chicks, almost certainly affecting their growth and survival.
Commenter Jacqui thinks cat owners need to take more responsibility:
‘There are at least three cats that visit my garden regularly, and it really annoys me. We’ve found two of them crouched underneath our bird box which has nesting blue tits in, and they are clearly hunting them. I think cats should have to wear a collar with a bell or something else that alerts birds to their presence.’
Is the CatBib safe for cats?
Making cats wear bells is one way to alert birds to their presence, but it’s not the only accessory. One unusual-looking solution is the CatBib. This is a neoprene flap that hangs from a collar in front of the cat’s front legs, acting either as a visual warning or as a barrier to pouncing.
However, Zahir White of the Cats Protection League has concerns about the CatBib being used as a deterrent:
‘A CatBib could get caught on twigs, fencing or thorns, endangering the cat or affecting its ability to escape cars and other hazards.
‘We would like to point out that cats can be deterred through safer and more humane methods. Bird feeders and nesting boxes should be put in places that are inaccessible to cats. We would urge owners to keep cats indoors when birds are at their most active, during the early morning and evening, and to neuter their pet cat too, as neutered cats tend to stay closer to home.’
In our Which? Gardening magazine, wildlife expert Dr Ken Thompson referred to a study of 56 cats fitted with the CatBib. Almost all adapted very quickly to the bib. They ran, jumped, climbed, groomed, chased moving objects, ate normally and had no difficulty picking up and carrying objects. None showed any sign of distress, since the bib attaches to the front of the collar via small hooks and Velcro loops, which release if it snags.
The cats caught fewer birds, and 70% of the cats’ owners said they would be happy to continue using the bibs.
Have you seen a decline in songbirds in your garden? Do you think cats are the problem? How do you think we can deter cats from killing birds?