Keeping cats away from bird feeders is a struggle for many people. Whether you love birds and hate cats or love both cats and birds, no one wants their feeders to become a buffet for the cats. The goal is to be able to watch the birds and provide food for them. Unfortunately, the way many people set up their feeders, they are destroying the birds’ chances for being safe. If you put up a feeder it is your responsibility to make it a safe as possible for the birds, otherwise you are just using them as bait for predators of all sorts (dogs, cats, fox, hawk, etc). There are some easy ways to help make the birds safer and keep the cats away from your bird feeders however. And these tips don’t involve hurting the cats.
Feed the Squirrels
I’ve done it now, I’ve mentioned public enemy #2 on many birders’ lists. However, feeding the squirrels works to your advantage if you want to keep cats and squirrels away from your feeders. Set a block of corn or scrap loaf bread at the edges of your feeding area, preferably on the ground. The squirrels will usually take the easier to get to feed and stay away from your feeders. This also makes them target #1 for any hunting cats. Cats prey on mammals twice as often as birds anyway, so they’ll happily go after the easy squirrel targets you have just set up for them, rather than trying to leap at feeding birds.
Give Cover to the Birds and Not the Cats
If you have birds that are only ground feeders, make sure that there is a wide open space of at least 15 feet in any direction. The more open space a cat has to cover, the better chance the birds will see the cat. The same goes for hanging feeders. Don’t place them over flowerbeds or low edging plants that give the cat cover for an approach. Birds have great eyesight, give them the opportunity to see the cat coming. Do the birds need cover? Sure. Make it bird appropriate cover. High shrubs and dense trees like cedar within a few feet of the feeders give birds a chance to take cover from airborne predators like hawks and prevent high leaps by cats, fox, and dog. Low cover around your feeders, however, is a deathtrap for the birds.
Use High Feeders
For hanging feeders, higher is better. If you have second story windows you can place your feeders outside of, fabulous! If not, pick a tree with a limb strong enough to support the feeder but not a cat. There are several plant pulleys on the market made for hanging baskets that work great for bird feeders as well. These extend about 30″ so hang the feeder as high as you can reach the bottom of it (for a 5’5″ person that would place the bottom of the feeder about 6 and a half feet off of the ground. While cats can jump up to 8 feet, that kind of a jump takes time and actually gives the birds a lot of lead time to fly away. The jump also restricts how much a cat can adjust for the bird’s movement so that it only takes a small position change for a bird to avoid the cat since they have spent all their energy on the jump and mid-air maneuvers are limited by physics.
If your cat is an indoor cat who sometimes goes outside then use a break away collar with a bell and lots of bright colors. You could also consider a color bib similar to the Birdbesafe cat collars. Again, this is only for indoor/outdoor cats and only break away collars should be used. Now, I have seen suggestions to trim a cat’s claws if they go outside. This is a very bad idea. If you let your cat outside, NEVER trim their claws. Claws are their only defense against many predators and it is unfair to take away their defense and then put them in a dangerous situation.