Cats and birds: questions for cat owners

The threads on feral cats (and the debate about whether they are decimating brid populations) inspired this thread/poll.

Cat owners:

Have your cats ever killed a bird/birds?

Do your cats display hunting instincts even when well-fed? (E.g., will your well-fed cat still go after a mouse?)

Do you agree that feral cats are a threat to wild birds?

If you also own a pet bird, does your cat display a malicious interest in the bird (a la Sylvester and Tweety)?

I raise these questions because I have seen cat owners who deny that cats eat wild birds, and I have also seen cat owners who claim that feral cats who are being fed by sympathetic humans won’t hunt because they’re full. I find both of these propositions dubious, but I’d like some input from people who’ve spent more time around cats than I.

Our cat Buster manages to catch a fledgeling in the back yard about every spring, but he seems too stupid to actually kill it and merely bats it around. Similar deal wtih lizards and small snakes- he can catch em, but doesn’t seem to have an appetite for them.

And yeah, we have dry food out for him, he gets all the food he wants (maybe that is why).

I have two happy, well-fed cats; one has been a housecat since birth, the other was a feral cat we took in at approximately 3 months of age.

The housecat has never caught so much as a spider. He’ll watch bugs and might poke at 'em. He chatters at birds. We have a mouse in our ceiling at whom he howls, but if presented with a living mouse I doubt he’d know what to do.

The feral cat is three years old now and she caught a bird once. How she managed to coax it onto our enclosed patio, the only outdoor area in which she is allowed, is amazing to me. Either she is damn wily or that was the dumbest bird in DC.

I’ve always assumed that the housecat might have the instinctual desire to chase things but having never gone hungry nor been shown that one can catch a bird, he doesn’t exhibit the behavior. The feral cat was taught to hunt and most likely depended on it for survival for the first months of her life and therefore continues to do so, even though she has food available 24-7.

Question by question…

Have your cats ever killed a bird/birds?**
My current cats, no. They are indoor-only cats. When I was growing up we always had cats. I only remember one which was obviously a good bird-catcher (meaning she brought them home - no way to know if the other cats caught birds & didn’t bring them home). One of my sister’s cats kills birds with relative frequency (about 1 a week, maybe?)

Do your cats display hunting instincts even when well-fed? (E.g., will your well-fed cat still go after a mouse?)
Oh yeah. My cats are well fed, and like the variety of food I give them, but they will still stalk anything that moves & kill it if possible. That said, neither is a very good hunter, possibly because they are not actually hungry, and they have only killed 2 out of a dozen or so mice I have known them to pursue over the years. They didn’t eat either one of the mice, but one did get groomed until sopping wet.

Do you agree that feral cats are a threat to wild birds?
I think that all outdoor cats are a threat to individual wild birds, with the level of threat each cat represents varying depending on how hungry and/or skillful they are. I suspect that rodents & insects face a bigger threat than do birds. I don’t have an opinion on whether or not cats are a threat to wild birds in the sense that they are going to cause one or more species to go extinct.

If you also own a pet bird, does your cat display a malicious interest in the bird (a la Sylvester and Tweety)?
Don’t own a pet bird, so I have no answer for this one.

All three of our cats are well-fed housecats (I mean strictly indoors—they’re never allowed out on their own). One of them has killed a bird. My husband was living in a real hole of a bachelor pad when he got our oldest cat. One day we came in to find that the cat had caught a small bird (Yes, in the house. I said it was a hole.). The bird wasn’t quite dead yet, but it was obvious that the cat had had a blast torturing it. The cat was proud as could be.

My first cat was an indoor/outdoor cat. Very well fed – she got wet food and all the dry food she could eat. And she was an incredible hunter. She would regularly capture birds and return home with them. Some got released, others got eaten. (One day I came home to an enormous drift of feathers in the kitchen, and no other trace of a bird.) She also caught mice.

Note that she had no training in hunting and/or eating prey as I adopted her at 8 weeks and she had no other cats in the household to teach her.

All my other cats have been indoor cats or are only allowed out on a lead. Of these, one other was also a very good mouser and, when out on a lead, would whomp any chipmunk that got close enough.

Of all the strictly indoor cats I’ve known, all have been fascinated by critters outside the window and are clearly interested in pursuing them.

Are cats a threat to bird populations? Only in closed ecosystems or to already imperiled bird populations. Not nearly as much of a threat as bulldozing 1000 acres and putting up a subdivision, for example. A feral colony of cats might decimate a local bird population in a neighborhood, I suppose, but the problem would be self-limiting.

My cat is indoor only and well fed. She does tend to go after insects, but we never had anything bigger for her to chase (except the dog, but that’s another story)

We do have a pet bird and the cat will sit and look at it, but has never gone after it.

The bird has a distinct squak for when the cat is near the cage.

According to this link, being well-fed does little to deter the hunting drive:

At the same time, though, it’s hard to imagine that a feral cat or a poorly fed pet cat would not be a superior hunter by dint of necessity.

Yes, my kitties have caught birds. One of them (my special ed cat) lies underneath the feeder as though he’s awaiting an elder bird to have a heart attack and fall on him.

The food bowl is always full, but they are good mousers, particularly the young ones. They’ve eaten mice that managed to get inside and were caught in a snap trap. Recycling.

Wild cats-wild birds. That’s how it was before we domesticated either critter, right?

Kitties come inside to see who the noisemaker (parrot) is. They’ve never made a move towards him. A blue fronted amazon that I had would attack cats sleeping on “his” sofa, and they never tried to hurt him, either.

Not the current two. They’re indoors cats. Well, the stupid one gets out about once a week, but he’s not out long and he’s not very coordinated.

Oh, yes. Every cat I’ve ever had. Whether they could catch it is another question.

Yes, in areas where there are wild birds. The suburbs don’t really count, but nearby micro-habitats can be hit hard. Of course a micro-habitat is already under stress because of the surrounding suburbs.

My dad once taught his cat to catch moles. Dad had a touch of OCD and couldn’t stand animals in the house, so when he inherited Patrick, Patrick became an outdoor cat. He was fed as much dry food as he needed, but if he brought a mole or a mouse to the front door, he got wet food, immediately. It took him a few weeks to work out that birds and lizards wouldn’t do it. After that it was mice and moles exclusively.

I have had cats that hunted, and cats who would starve it not fed. I’ve had cats that brought me what they caught, and expected me to eat it. One kitten I bottleraised from the age of about 2 weeks grew up to be the fierciest hunter on the block, beating up everything that moved up to and including the dogs. If you pointed at her and laughed, she’d run over and bite you.

Some cats hunt. Some squirrels run out in front of cats. Some birds fly into windows. Some developers cut down entire habitats. And so on…

Well, Beru (my feline adoptor) has caught a mouse on two different occasions. She’s an indoor cat, so she’s never had the chance to catch a bird. But she loves to sit in the window and monkey-fuss at them.

Beru has a full-dish of dry food at all times.

When she’s caught the mice, she’s never eaten them. Just wanted to hunt.

I had 3 outdoor cats growing up and they were all good at catching birds or mice and leaving guts strewn all over the doorstep for me to step on and then run around screaming about. My mother always said they brought it as a tribute. Those were some traumatic spring mornings for me though.

One of the cats was fat when we resuced her, and even though her weight normalized living in our house, she was a pig and not only would she eat mice and little birds, she’s throw them up. I think she had a real thing for compulsive eating.

At the risk of a small hijack, I wanted to ask about the lead. Ever since my S.O. decided on his own that my indoor cat just had to be let outside, there’s no going back. He’ll drive me nuts until I let him out. I’m not allowed to have an outdoor cat, so I watch him like a hawk when he’s in my little enclosed patio area but he still manages to make it under the fence every so often and although he always comes running when I call him, I’m scared he’ll be discovered during one of his mini escapes and get me in a world of trouble with the management.

So, what is this lead of which you speak? Is it like a harness? I tried one of those when he was a kitten and he freaked right the hell on out. Is it like a leash? Can you tie it to something with a ton of slack so he can roam a bit but not too far?

lezlers, we sometimes put our cats on a lead, too. It’s the same one we use for the dog when he’s outside. Ours isn’t a chain (they get tangled too easily and are too heavy, IMO), it’s a long cord with plastic on the outside. I’d say it’s probably 20-25 feet long. We generally don’t let them out for too long, and always supervise the whole time. But that’s just us. We’re paranoid about them getting loose, as we live on a major highway. But it does give them a chance to be outside for awhile and they love being able to lay in the sun and eat a little grass.

Oh, shoot. Sorry for the double post but I forgot a couple things. Ours isn’t a harness. We just hook the chain to a regular old collar. The one we have doesn’t have to be tied to anything. It has a metal attachment that screws into the ground.

I’ve always prefered a harness to a collar - cats don’t have collarbones and can come out of a collar in a second. A harness requires a little more effort to escape.

Have your cats ever killed a bird/birds?
Not the current ones; they are strictly indoor cats. But the late Fuzzball, Queen of the Universe (1982-2000) and her brother Cinnamon (1982-85) used to regularly kill birds and mice, and proudly present them on the doorstep.

Do your cats display hunting instincts even when well-fed? (E.g., will your well-fed cat still go after a mouse?)
Yes, definitely. Should see Charlotte and Wilbur attacking pieces of cat kibble when I skitter them across the floor.

Do you agree that feral cats are a threat to wild birds?
I doubt it, but I’m speaking from a position of ignorance here; I really don’t know much about this question.

If you also own a pet bird, does your cat display a malicious interest in the bird (a la Sylvester and Tweety)?

Yep, a harness. One loop goes around the neck, the other goes behind the front legs. You should NOT use a collar alone. Too much risk of strangulation and/or escape. If you attach the end of the lead to a run, you have to make sure it’s not close enough to a tree or a high object for the cat to climb, because if the lead gets tangled in a tree branch (and it will), the cat ends up dangling from the harness. You do have to keep an eye on them because cats have no notion of topology and can’t untangle the lead if it wraps around something.

I’ve been lucky in that all the cats I’ve tried it with have tolerated the harness. My previous cat would come running up and wait patiently for it to be attached because she knew it meant a chance to go Outside. The same cat and I used to go for walks together in the field behind the house.

No, my cats stay inside. (My neighbor’s old cat, however, used to kill everything in sight.)

Yes, when they see birds out the window they swish their tails and make a strange sound. Also, their general way of playing is play-hunting each other. Once they did kill a mouse that was inside (and played with it before killing it, while I was half-asleep).

Yes, feral cats are a threat to wild birds.

No pet birds in our house.