My grandsons came running to breathlessly report there was little black kitty in the barn. I groaned inwardly. The next day, we heard its non-stop meowing closer to the house. I walked towards the source of the pitiful cries and found it crouched in the tall grass of the old horse corral. It would only let me get within a few feet and then it would jump up and run away. I knew it was another unfortunate feral kitten, one of many that have appeared over the years at our place. Nineteen years ago I found an orange kitten in the barn. I brought it into the house, because it was too young to have learned to fear us. We named him Pumpkin, because it was October, and he lived with us for 18 years, most of that time indoors.
So why am I writing a blog about cats in a website devoted to feeding birds? Because if you allow cats to roam you will have fewer birds at your birdfeeders. If you buy bird seed, then I know you very much enjoy watching all the birds around your home and you probably spend a lot of money each year so they will stay nearby. This is not an article about either/or. We no longer have any cats living with us, but we have had three over the years. So I like cats, including the truly wild ones – the bobcats, lynx and cougars
Some people might say that housecats haven’t really been domesticated; they just recognized a better deal, when they saw it. Don’t bite or scratch the humans and they will provide you with regular meals and warm, comfortable accommodations. Occasionally purring and allowing oneself to be touched sealed the deal.
Their hunting skills were the payback to the human in the house and barn, because the cat was better than any artificial mouse trap. Needless to say, cats, whether pets or feral are highly efficient predators and will attack anything that is smaller than themselves and moves, whether that is a new toy, strands of yarn, or songbirds, looking for seeds in the grass.
No one believes their cat could possibly be a serial killer (they don’t catch birds because they’re hungry), but a study done by a researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology found through reports from citizen scientists in a program called, “My Yard Counts” that 28 different species of birds were reported killed by cats over the two year study period. Dark-eye juncos, house sparrows, and mourning doves were the most frequently reported species.
An earlier study done by University of Wisconsin scientists put the number of birds killed annually by free roaming rural cats at 7.8 million. Those were just the cats in Wisconsin. I know those numbers sound preposterous, but when you start counting the number of cats in this country, pets and otherwise, you begin to believe the numbers.
Allowing cats outdoors might seem only fair, but their lives are significantly reduced in quality and longevity when allowed to roam freely. They are exposed to parasites, disease, other predators and cars. And you’re often saddled with more vet bills. Outdoor cats will live five years less, on average, that the cat that is kept indoors.
I know some people believe a bell on the collar or being declawed will solve this problem, but cats are so stealthy and fast, that they can still catch birds and deliver a fatal bite with these additional controls.
With colder weather coming on, any right minded cat knows that a warm radiator or floor vent is the place to be. If you haven’t already established the rule that the cat has to stay indoors, winter is a good time to start. Yes, they will complain when spring returns, but who’s really the boss in this relationship? Don’t answer that. Just say no.