Cats on the Prowl

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

birdbaths and birdhouses away from these feline hiding places.

  • Take stray cats to an animal shelter, where the cats have a chance to find good homes and won't be adding to the feral cat population.
  • Get cats neutered. Domestic cats, unlike their wild cousins that have one litter a year, can breed up to three times a year. According to animal behaviorists Bill Fleming and Judy Petersen-Fleming, two uncontrolled breeding cats with two litters a year and 2.8 kittens surviving per litter, during their 10-year breeding span, could multiply to 80,399,780 cats.
  • Pay attention to bird calls, especially in the spring and summer when birds are mating and raising their young. If you hear birds chattering loudly, check to see if a cat is causing the birds' distress. If so, put the cat inside.
  • Keep cats inside when young birds are learning to fly.
  • Wrap a 3-foot tall flat piece of sheet metal around a tree when birds are nesting in it. The bottom of the metal needs to be at least five feet off the ground so cats can't jump above it. A cone shaped animal guard (pictured at right) also may help if it is at least five feet off the ground. This will help keep out raccoons and snakes, as well as cats. To avoid harming the tree, suspend the sheet metal or cone from limbs with rope.
  • On farms, keep only as many mousers as needed to control the rodent populations. Well-fed, neutered cats will stay close to buildings and do most of their hunting where they are needed. Another solution is to use traps instead of cats.

    It's hard for many people to believe that the gentle cat curled up on their bed at night can be one of the most efficient killers in nature. According to studies, the following beliefs about cats are not true.

    A well-fed cat won't hunt.

    A healthy well-fed cat is a more efficient hunter than a hungry feral one because cats hunt even when they aren't hungry.

    A cat without claws can't kill birds.

    They may not have razor-sharp claws to grab hold of the prey, but a clawless cat can use its agile front legs to deliver a stunning blow with its foot and its sharp teeth to bite into the prey's neck.

    Kittens must be taught to hunt by their mother.

    Kittens are born with the instinct to hunt. However, they often become more efficient hunters if the mother shows them how.

    Domestic cats are too lazy to hunt.

    Cats sleep two-thirds of the day but they are always on alert. Cats rest a lot because they are not designed for endurance. They use high levels of energy for short periods, then rest to recover. Even when they appear to be snoozing, they are light sleepers and alert to sounds and movement around them.

    Cats prefer catching rodents.

    This may be true in rural areas, where studies show that birds make up 20 percent of a cat's diet. But cats are opportunists, and in urban areas where rodent populations are kept down by other means, birds may be the most readily available prey.

    A collar bell alerts birds.

    Throughout time, people have put bells on cats to keep them from catching birds, but it represents a false sense of security, according to Dr. Horton. Many times birds know exactly where the predator is. Distraught birds will dive bomb a cat to get it to move away from their young. The cat's agile front legs allow it to easily reach up and grab the bird.

    When a belled cat sneaks up on a bird, the clapper in the bell usually doesn't ring until the final pounce, when it's often too late for the bird to respond. Instead of being a warning, the bell around a cat's neck may be a death knell for the unsuspecting bird.

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