Cottage Q&A: Outdoor cats and birds

Outdoor cat with blue eyes perched on a snowy railing By Rodica Vasiliev/Shutterstock

I read somewhere that cats are the number one threat to birds in the U.S. and Canada. Is my outdoor cat a threat to birds around my cottage?—Hazel Valentine, via email

Yes, your cat is a threat. Is it the number one threat? Truth: habitat destruction and climate change probably play a larger role, at least in terms of indirect threats, says Aly Hyder Ali with Nature Canada, a national nature conservation charity. “But cats are the largest direct threat, and they do have a huge impact.” One North American study estimated that cats cause up to 350 million bird deaths per year. “And that’s probably conservative,” says Hyder Ali. Cats themselves aren’t the problem. “It’s the improper management of cats by humans,” he says. 

It’s a misconception that indoor cats are unhappy cats, or that outdoor cats can’t get used to having to stay indoors all the time. (If people can do it, cats can do it. #LessonsFromPandemic.) “With a short amount of time and a little bit of effort, you can retrain them,” says Hyder Ali. Give your kitty stimulating toys—anything on a lead will activate the hunting instinct—and add cat-friendly furniture, like perches and “cat gyms,” indoors. These give a cat places to climb and increase their usable inside space. Meanwhile, provide outdoor time by keeping your cat on a leash, supervised, or by building or buying an enclosure.

Ultimately, the retraining will be a win for you and for your cat; indoor cats live up to five times longer than outdoor cats. And it’ll certainly be a win for your conscience. “You don’t have to sacrifice cats for birds,” says Hyder Ali. “You just have to balance your responsibilities. And this is something one person can do, day-to-day, to truly help nature.”

This article was originally published in the Aug./Sept. 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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