Saturday, October 5, 2013

Protecting birds from outdoor cats

These two pictures, placed side by side, should explain the problem I'm having at the moment.
Bird feeders

Jasper the cat outside

Yep, I'm one of those people that has both bird feeders and cats. I've written about this issue before, when little Jasper killed some small bird in my yard in Portland. At the time, I was devastated, and I put belled collars on all the outdoor cats. My solution at that time also involved making my yard hostile to birds. I had no feeders out, and I was certain to avoid all plants that produced seeds. By belling the cats and removing the birds, I figured I had the problem solved. Even when the outdoor cats took their collars off, there were no birds for them to kill. Smart me, right?

But when I moved here, I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing by banning birds. After all, the Audubon Society suggests that world bird populations are on the decline, due to urban sprawl and pollution. The tiny birds we all grew up with an love are becoming more and more rare, and a lack of food is part of the problem. Additionally, birds in my own corner of the world are struggling to survive during this time of climate change. Just last week, I saw a report regarding a massive die-off of swallows in Oregon, due to the freakish weather we've had this fall. 

Anyone who loves birds can't read reports like this and feel content to go forward with business as usual. Feeding the birds just seems like the right thing to do. 

The cats, however, had other plans. 

Our outdoor cats can't come indoors, for reasons I've outlined here. They're also quite old, and not as spry as they once were. When I set the feeders up for the very first time, the old men did nothing at all. In fact, they didn't even look at the feeders that were swarmed with birds. 

But last week, Beorn found his mojo, and he killed one of my little birds. 

Cats can't wear standardized collars with buckles, as they tend to strangle on them. They squeeze into small spaces, and before you know it, the collar is stuck and the body is not. So we must use breakaway collars. Unfortunately, most breakaway collars are designed to fall apart at the slightest touch, so Jasper and Beorn are adept at pulling them off with just one foot.

Going without a collar isn't an option now, however, as the death of one bird is too many for me. So I bought a breakaway collar for both boys, with a very loud bell, and I chose the collars that had the least amount of give. It's been 4 days, and both boys still have collars on. 

But if they take them off, I'm heading to the pet store to buy in bulk, and I'll put a new one on them each and every morning. It's really the only thing to do. Cats like Beorn and Jasper kill up to 3.7 billion birds each year, according to a recent study, and I just can't be a part of that kind of die-off. Here's hoping the boys will cooperate.

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