Cats on the Prowl
impact with the destruction of habitat and the use of pesticides and the birds are big losers. In towns, competition from exotic birds, like English sparrows and starlings, for nesting cavities keeps many native species from finding safe places to raise young, says Jane Fitzgerald, Midwest coordinator for Partners in Flight, an organization dedicated to the conservation of birds. "The biggest threat is in the country," Fitzgerald says, "where cats have the potential to disrupt more natural ecosystems."
Back in my urban neighborhood, the battle continues. This year wrens returned to my backyard after the two cats from next door moved away. The backyard is cat free once again, but the front yard isn't as safe for another wren family in the ash tree and the cardinals nesting in the lilac bush next to the front porch. A new cat moved in across the street, and as I was writing this story, I saw it pounce on the male cardinal. A quick yell from me at the moment of capture caught the cat off guard, and the bird flew free.
It's possible to enjoy the company of cats without having to forego the sight of robins plucking worms from freshly tilled soil, the sounds of mourning doves gently announcing the morning with their cooing or the satisfaction of knowing that hungry wrens are eating the insects that would otherwise bug gardeners and gardens.
The best solution is to keep cats indoors. Dr. Jack Horton of Columbia, Mo., a recently retired veterinarian who specialized in felines and other small animals for 40 years, says keeping cats indoors prolongs cats' lives and protects wild bird populations.
Cats kept indoors live longer, he says, because they are exposed to fewer diseases, such as rabies, feline distemper and leukemia, they don't suffer wounds and resultant infections during territorial battles with other cats, and they are not run over by cars, a major cause of feline death.
Tips on protecting birds from outdoor cats
Because some cat owners do allow their cats outdoors, birdwatchers must take precautions for the birds' sake. Here are a few that are recommended by bird experts and researchers across the country.
- Trim bushes near feeders, birdbaths and birdhouses so cats don't have a place to hide. This will keep cats and other predators from ambushing birds that are on the ground.
- Either enclose areas under porches and decks so cats can't hide under them, or place feeders,