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House Cats And Birds In The Garden

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One snowy winter day I put out a seed ball for the little chickadees to eat. The next morning I saw the ball in the snow and paw prints leading up to the scattered seed. There were a couple of blood spots and some feathers scattered around. I had inadvertently led the poor little critters to their death by trying to feed them.

The domestic cat is non-native to most ecosystems. Feral cats are the result of domestic cats being abandoned and left to breed in the wild. All cats eat birds, reptiles and small mammals. Even if your pet cat is well fed, it will still hunt when let out of the house. Cats play with their prey, causing them to suffer and die slowly. There are an estimated 50 million feral cats in the United States alone.

According to Rebecca Morelle, the Science reporter for BBC World Service, “The domestic cat’s killer instinct has been well documented on many islands around the world. Felines accompanying their human companions have gone on to prey on the local wildlife, and they have been blamed for the global extinction of 33 species of small animals.”

The Australian government, in 2015, announced that it intended to kill more than 2 million feral cats by 2020 through trapping, poisoning and shooting them. One council even offered a “cat-scalp” bounty for trapping cats. Government officials in Perth are reviewing cat and dog legislation after a rise in complaints about stray animals. Proposed changes to the Cat Act 2011 could see felines forced to stay indoors permanently or given curfews that limit them from going outdoors between sunrise and sunset.

If you want to create a bird-friendly garden there are some deterrents you can use to discourage cats from preying on avian visitors:

  • Place bird feeders high off the ground away from surfaces where a cat could jump.
  • Plant spiny, or spiky plants on the ground directly under bird feeders to discourage cats from loitering under the feeder, waiting for a chance to pounce.
  • There are ultrasonic deterrents that can help keep cats out of the garden.
  • Pet dogs are great deterrents for feline visitors.

Become a responsible cat owner. Do not let your cat roam outside. Cats live longer when kept inside. Feral cats are subject to many diseases, like feline leukemia, and can pass on cat scratch fever to humans. Indoor cats rarely present a problem with disease. Cats domesticated humans, not the other way around. They voluntarily gave up the wild to have a warm place to live and a constant supply of food, so don’t feel guilty for keeping them indoors.

If you feel sorry for your cat because it wants to go outside, create a “catio,” an enclosed space outside where your cat can enjoy the outdoors without being able to escape and hunt. Keep the litter box clean so you won’t have to endure the pungent odor of cat urine.

Make sure you have your cat spayed or neutered so it will not be able to mate if it inadvertently gets out. If you decide to get a cat, adopt one. Don’t encourage the business of cat breeding. If cat owners keep their cats inside, they are helping wildlife survive in its natural habitat, without invasive felines preying on it.

Happy gardening!

Francie McGowan is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or go to: http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=7269 to fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire. Check out our website at: http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu/Master_Gardeners/ You can also find us on Facebook.

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