Forget the Birds and the Bees; Think about the Birds and the Cats
Photo from the NatureWatch Wildlife Education CD (USDA)
Being a cat owner and bird lover are not two mutually exclusive states of being. Much controversy swirls around about whether domestic cats should have access to the outdoors, especially with respect to bird populations. While I see both points of view, there are some particular cautions cat owners and bird lovers can take during spring and fall bird migrations.
Hundred of thousands of birds travel through Central and coastal Virginia during their annual spring and fall migrations. This large swatch of "migratory pathway" from Florida to Canada is called the Atlantic Flyway. Virginia sits smack in the middle of it–which means cats that live in Virginia can significantly impact the bird population! .
Cat with warbler; photo from the NatureWatch Wildlife Education CD (USDA)
Cats are instinctively noctural. They prefer to hunt at dusk, throughout the night, and in the early dawn. While it is best to keep your domestic cat indoors–extending their lifespan and protecting birds–it doesn't always work. If yourcats need tospend timeboth indoors and outdoors, I recommend that you keep them indoors at the very leastfrom 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. There several types of cat doors and cat windowswith locking mechanisms that have enter and/or exit only settings, timers, and ID systems. Outdoor cat owners should NEVER hang bird feeders! Remember, some municipalities require cats to be on leashes at all times.
Under no circumstances should you feed stray cats. While it seems the humane thing to do, you are prolonging their suffering and making them dependent on an unpredictable food source. Whilestray cats kill many birds–sometimes the birds end up injuring the cats. The best thing to do is eithertrap the strayanimal and adopt it or trap the animal andplaceit with your local SPCA for evaluation and adoption.
This stray cat has "tipped" ears most likely due to bird attach.Photo from NatureWatch Wildlife Education CD (USDA)
If you are camping with your cat at one of our Virginia State Parks, we highly recommend that you keep your cat inside your RV. We do not recommend tent camping with cats. Feral cats that invade our parks often start out as domestic pets that escaped from their camping families. While our job is to protect wildlife, we also want to protect your pet, too. Keep themhome or inside your RVso they don't fall prey to larger predators such as bobcats, bears, or eagles.
The American Bird Conservancy has excellent downloadable materials about the Cats Indoors campaign and the impacts domestic and stray cats can have on wildlife populations.