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Keeping Your Backyard Bird Safe

Imagine you’re sitting in your backyard, sipping coffee and listening to the rustling breeze. A songbird perched at your bird feeder adds just the right element to complete a perfectly peaceful scene.

But danger could be lying in wait for your feathered visitor in the form of a cat – yours, one belonging to a neighbor or a stray. The mere threat can give your backyard a bad reputation among the population, and your bird feeder could sit alone and unused.

More than 50 million Americans have bird feeders, baths or houses for birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Birds bring color, song and liveliness to any backyard setting. In return, birds have a rest area to feed, wash and perch.

This bucolic statistic has a darker side: Domestic outdoor cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. A study, conducted across North America, noted that cats especially prey upon dark-eyed juncos, pine siskin, the northern cardinal and the American goldfinch.

To protect vulnerable bird populations, the American Bird Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving wild birds and their habitats, has launched a campaign called “Cats Indoors!” The campaign aims to educate the public to the threat outdoor cats pose to birds at feeders and baths, as well as to other small mammals, reptiles and even themselves.

The campaign doesn’t lay the blame of predations at the paws of cats, but instead picks up on the theme many veterinarians and cat owners have been saying: A cat is safer, healthier and happier indoors. It also tries to dispel several mistaken beliefs, such as:

Common Myths

Possible Solutions for Protecting Birds

Although the real solution lies in reducing the numbers of outdoor cats, bird lovers can take steps to thwart an attack in their backyard, notes Susan Wells, executive director of the National Bird-Feeders Society.

Even if a cat can’t get to a feeder, he may hang around in the hope of catching a bird, Wells said. Their presence can scare away birds. Wells said that scattering citrus peels around the yard will keep cats away. “Members say that lemon or orange peels seem to work best,” she said.