Senior Musings #2 May 2011

Posted 05.20.11

Cats and Songbirds

BobbiSpring not only brings flowers, but the return of songbirds. Many of us delight in watching them build their nests, and fill our feeders so we can observe them from our windows.

But a terrible myth persists. Many people claim that cats are the primary threat to the survival of songbirds.

In fact, what really threatens songbirds are destruction of their habitats, other birds (the big predators who raid nests), tall buildings and other obstacles with mirrored or shiny surfaces, as well as things like pesticides which contaminate their food sources.

Wildlife biologists report that cats are pretty bad at catching birds. They can't fly, they can't climb a tree fast enough, and so, unless they get really lucky, the only birds they tend to catch are on the ground and very young or in poor health.

Janice Biniok (http://www.TheAnimalPen.com) points out that farm cats rarely kill birds. She says that on her working farm, cats keep the rodent population in check, reducing the spread of rodent-borne diseases, damage to crops and stored foods, and prevent the damage rodents cause to equipment.

Deb Eldredge, DVM, (http://coyote-run.net/) says: "One of our barn cats was an incredible hunter -- voles, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, rats and weasels. Never once did we see her with a bird. We have had four other barn cats here and never once found them with a bird. Yes, we have bird feeders, so birds are around."

Deb performed an informal study of the kill rate on her farm. 95 percent were small rodents (mice and moles), 3 percent rabbits, ground squirrels, rats and other small mammals, and only 2 percent birds. She wrote, "the bird kills were very easy to tally since cats do not eat feathers, while the rodent kills are probably underestimated because mice are often eaten whole without leaving any evidence of the kill."

The "natural" food for cats is the small rodent. It contains all the elements their diet needs, about 52 per cent of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36 percent from fat and 12 perecent from carbohydrate. An average rat or mouse contains about 55 percent protein, 40 percent fat, and 10 percent carbohydrate.

Birds, on the other hand, contain very little protein and it's hard to get to through all those feathers and small bones.

I've taught three Simon Teakettles in a row not to chase birds. Tiki loved to go outside, and respected the fence in the back yard. I kept an eye out for him, and early on, when I wasn't sure I could trust him not to climb the fence, I would go out and if I saw him, I'd praise him, and if I didn't see him, I'll call him.

I would hear a tiny "meow" from the daylily foliage, where he was hiding so he could watch the birds without scaring them. Smart kitty!

Terzo, however, stays indoors. He has a shelf in my office window with a great view of a bird feeder. That's the safe solution, not just for the birds, but also for the cat.


Find lots of cat facts, advice, and fun on Bobbi's website: www.SimonTeakettle.com, where Terzo also has a blog which he updates weekly.

Copyright © 2011 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.11