Bird Baths and Cats

We have a new Bird Bath.

IMG_7994

Juvenile Blue Tits discovering the new bird bath

10 years ago, our youngest daughter rescued a feral Kitten with a badly gashed stomach. A vets fee and some pleading eyes were involved and we became the owners of a second cat, along with several guinea pigs, hamsters, one eyed rabbits, one eared rabbits, an assortment of chickens and our beloved Bag Puss of cat, Charlie. Our doodle less Labradoodle, Archie came into our lives 2 years later.

LollyPop

LollyPop, Lolly for short, took some taming, being a previously feral cat, he had been used to catching his own dinner – mainly flies and rodents and I am sure some birds too. Lolly drank from the bird bath, then having deterred any thirsty feathered friends, he sat on top of the bird table, basking in the sun, surveying his kingdom below.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove – they came to the UK in the 1950’s

We gave our stone bird bath away, followed shortly after by the bird table and replaced it with a multi armed pole for hanging nuts and seeds from. But we really missed watching birds drink and splash around whilst bathing in the bird bath.  We were ever mindful of Lolly during the day but he was not an indoor cat, if we tried to contain him at night, he made sure sleep wasn’t an option for any of us. Having slept all day himself, he only wanted a night on the tiles.

Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

A neighbour once reported that she saw Lolly fillet a pigeon and eat the lot. In the UK we have 5,400,000 breeding pairs of Wood Pigeon. They eat seeds, nuts and berries, cabbages, sprouts, shoots and buds wether asked to or not. They cause irritating damage in my veg garden, but they do clean up fallen bird seeds, which the smaller birds chuck out of the feeders.

Drying off after a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon drying off

A report by The Mammal Society who carried out a study on predation from domestic and feral cats has been widely reported in our press and mainly against cats. However, for this post, I have read it again and was surprised to read that cat owners reported less predation if they owned a bird feeder.

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

From the RSPB website, who offer a balanced view – “The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.”

On balance the RSPB say –

“Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.”

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot.

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot, although not life threatening

The RSPB add “Gardens may provide a breeding habitat for at least 20% of the UK populations of house sparrows, starlings, greenfinches, blackbirds and song thrushes four of which are declining across the UK. For this reason it would be prudent to try to reduce cat predation, as, although it is not causing the declines, some of these species are already under pressure.”

“Cat predation can be a problem where housing is next to scarce habitats such as heathland, and could potentially be most damaging to species with a restricted range (such as cirl buntings) or species dependent on a fragmented habitat (such as Dartford warblers on heathland).”

Succsesful landing

Succsesful landing by Juvenile Blue Tits

Its recommended by some wildlife organisations for cats to wear a bell on their collars to give prey a fair chance of escape. But I have to confess we did not do that, Lolly didn’t wear a collar at all, as I had a fear the collar would catch on a branch and he would end up strangled.

Lottie with Lolly

Collarless Cat

Then this Spring Lolly died and we were all very sad, especially my youngest daughter who had rescued him all those years ago. I bought a new bird bath from the RSPB, made of resin and very cleanable but a bit too deep, they recommend 2 inches of water otherwise small birds may drown, so we put some large stones in the bottom. If any birds poop in the water and thats mainly pigeons, the bath is easy to clean out.

Archie

Archie, who prefers sticks to wildlife

Now we do not have a menagerie of pets any more, just Archie, who is is easy going but does attempt to chase the odd squirrel. We encourage as much wildlife to our garden as we possibly can and I do not think we will have another cat but for the time we had Lolly here, he was much loved and he is missed.

47 thoughts on “Bird Baths and Cats

  1. Great photos! Birds have lots of foes here in the suburbs of Texas. Cats yes, but also raccoons, coyotes, snakes and even other larger birds all prey on the smaller ones. It is a hard knock life for birds, no question. For around two years we were visited regularly by a cat so wild we never were able to pet, much less invite her in. We fed her and never witnessed her stalking birds. Eventually she disappeared again and we were very sad to see her go, though like you, we certainly enjoy having smaller birds back closer to the house again.

    • I’ve read this week, that not all cats develop the ability to predate birds, our other older cat certainly could not catch any birds. The survey by the Mammal Society has been extrapolated out from a survey of around 700 people reporting “what the cat brought in”. And they have an ongoing website where folk can report on feral and domestic cats, so they can understand the full extent of it all. However, we were fairly sure Lolly did catch birds but we never witnessed it and he never brought anything inside the house. We have stoats and foxes over here, that predate on birds and Badgers who take ground nesting birds eggs. Badgers are currently subject to a cull in some areas and are being blamed for the spread of Bovine TB, but thats another desperatly sad situation, thats dividing opinion over here. Watching smaller birds accounts for a great deal of my time, I cant imagine a day without them now.

  2. Nice post, Julie. It’s nice to see your menagerie: daughter, cats, dog and birds. I know here in the States, the Audubon Society strongly discourages outdoor cats. My own two don’t seem to hunt much, though my male has been, in the past, an excellent mouser/ratter–a good thing, if you ask me. I think with feral cats, the birds are much more at risk. The occaisional times that one or the other catches a bird, it tends to be a dove or an invasive House Sparrow. I certainly seen many birds on our roads, squashed (poor things) and buildings are also menaces to migrating birds.

    • We rarely saw rats once Lolly arrived and prior to that, we saw several, including a couple of nests in my compost bins. Rats spread foul diseases, any deterrent was good by me. He kept down the mice who foraged on the ground for dropped seed too. Apparently not all cats develop the ability to hunt birds, feral cats as you say are trickier as obviously there is no managed food and they are hungry animals. Sadly, there is a lot of bad press and sensationalist headlines here for cats. I found it quite encouraging to read the RSPB – our main bird charity give such a balanced report.

    • Archie was the odd one out of a curly haired litter, we were told Labradoodles do not moult but I seem to spend a lot of time hoovering….his temperament is so gentle though and he is a great companion – I love that occasional giddy joyous nature they have.

    • Thanks Joanna, a night-time cat camera would be quite illuminating. Apart from the tell tale results of some after dark scraps and a neighbour reporting he “shared” her cats food, we never did know. They are such secretive animals.

  3. Gorgeous photos. It’s spring here and we are enjoying watching native birds in our trees. We have a kowhai (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dwhai) just outside my husband’s office and it is a magnet for Tui (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tui_%28bird%29) and Kereru (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_pigeon). I’ve been trying to photograph them, but totally without success! There is a movement here, led by a rather eccentric millionaire, to make de-sexing of cats compulsory and to force people to keep them indoors — ostensibly to preserve wildlife. So it’s interesting to hear the RSPB’s findings. My cat has never been an indoor cat, and she’s too old for big change. She’s also too old to catch birds — even though I watch her stalking them 🙂

    • Cats must be an introduced species in New Zealand. I have just read another bloggers comment from Australia where he keeps his cats indoors to protect small mammals and protect his own cats from fox bait traps. Is this a big problem where you are too Su? Good luck with your photos, just looked your links up, the Tui is an amazing looking bird.

      • Hi Julie. Yes, cats aren’t native to NZ. Actually the only native mammal species here are bats and marine mammals. So our birds, reptiles and frogs evolved with no mammal predators. Many of the birds are flightless. Cats are a problem — but much less so than rats and stoats, who eat the eggs. I don’t think cats here are particularly in danger — except from cars. There is a programme to poison possums, but I don’t think cats eat the bait. Cheers, Su.

  4. Lovely bird bath. We don’t have one but your post is making me think we should. We sometimes see birds use our garden pond for drinking and there is a stream just down the road too, so I wonder if they’d use one? We’ll start feeding the birds again very soon, but I think our bird table may need a bit of repair before that!

    • That RSPB bird bath is very reasonably priced on Amazon, I had really wanted a stone one again but had to have a sit down at the price of them! We have a river tributary about 10 metres away and are putting in another pond but for purely selfish reasons wanted a bird bath I could see easily.Good luck with your repairs!

  5. Lovely post Julie! I’m sorry you lost your cat in the spring – I know how heartbreaking losing an animal can be. We had three cats (all rescue cats) and all are gone now. We decided not to get any more pets after the last one died, one reason being both Elinor and I have developed an allergy to pet hair. Only one of our cats caught birds – the other two were mousers. I never saw evidence that our cat killed the birds he caught though he may have done. He either let them go and they flew off or he brought them into the house and I had to try and catch the poor thing and let it out again! Wood Pigeons are such messy creatures aren’t they? I read that they are the carriers for a few of the diseases that are affecting some of our smaller song birds. Do you know anything about this? Has this been substantiated?

  6. Lolly sounds like he had a great life! Shelter (when it suited him) and a ready source of food and affection….I can imagine he ruled the roost for his time at your place 🙂
    My cats are strictly indoors, as it is a bit different here in the Blue Mountains; cats tend to do more damage to Australia’s small, endangered mammals which have not evolved any defences for such predation. In addition, there are fox baits everywhere, which are just as attractive to cats, so it is definitely best to keep kitty indoors here!

    • Matt, thats interesting, cats cannot be natives for you, I have just read a report in the guardian about the problems you have there, so its lovely your two get to happily live indoors. Lolly did have a good life, my youngest rescued all sorts over the years, but none that got away with sleeping on beds as he did!

      • No, they aren’t – and we don’t really have any native animals that are similar; so all of our small mammals evolved to avoid predation from birds by becoming nocturnal…which of course, spelt disaster when cats arrived.

  7. We had a cat named Phoebe who had a truly savage soul, though she had never been feral. Like your Lolly, it was impossible to keep her indoors. She was a fearsome hunter. Mostly she caught mice and voles, occasionally a small rabbit, which was a lot messier. She did also go after birds, mostly ground feeding sparrows. The reports you cite about cats and predation are quite interesting and a little bit comforting. If we do get another cat we will try to keep it indoors but that doesn’t always seem possible.

    • I cant imagine being able to keep a cat entirely indoors either, if determined, the slightest gap in door or window and they are off. Cats do a valuable job in keeping down the ever growing rodent population. We have had rats here and its not good.

  8. Almost every house in the country has cats in Italy; the owners say it is necessary to keep down rodents. we don’t have cats of our own but of course cats visit the garden on a regular basis. People do feed their cats a bit and give them water but mostly they catch what they eat; I see them in the lanes poised ready to strike at birds, mice and unfortunately lizards which aren’t a pest at all and I don’t mind how many of them are in the garden. Birds aren’t used to people putting out food for them so that when we had snow one winter and I put out some fruit for the blackbirds it was completely ignored but they do eat fruit from the trees which mostly I don’t mind sharing (except for the figs – I want those all for myself!.)

    • Well thats something I had not considered before, interesting how each nation develops.Rodents can create absolute havoc. My mum lives in Hertfordshire where there are introduced Edible Dormice (glis glis) – who ate through a neighbours loft electrical wires causing a roof fire. If I could grow figs I would share them either!

  9. Our garden is visited by a fox, badger and up to seven cats who seen to use the badger path as a highway! I always said I would never have another cat because of bird predation, the youngest daughter came back home with a dog and cat, which does catch birds. Watching the birds using the feeders and bird bath is an important part of garden life for me. Lovely photos Julie.

    • I love the sound of your garden Brian, it must be a real haven. Birds provide so much pleasure don’t they and they are an instant stress buster. A couple of years ago our youngest still at uni had two pet rats, we looked after them once but the smell nearly made me pass out. She is in London now with a landlords strict no animal policy!

  10. An interesting read, Julie. We don’t have cats, but many neighbours do and squirrels are in our garden too, so a bird feeder has never really been considered a good idea. We do have water for the birds though and I love watching them take a bath in the mornings!

    • We have an occasional squirrel who takes nuts, my husband charges out or bangs on the window. I think if we had lots like you we’d have to think again. If I am ever feeling miserable watching birds always makes me smile, I forgotten how much fun they are when having a bath too!

  11. This is a very interesting post, I appreciate the time you took to share so much information. I have a number of birdfeeders outside my kitchen windows, but no baths because there is a “hunter” in the neighborhood…beautiful orange and white cat, but ruthless, and I sometimes find feathers of a victim in the garden. Since we are just above the Reedy River, we have a number of snakes too (mostly good but we did see a copperhead this year), so I don’t encourage nesting. A pair of Carolina wrens lost their first clutch two years in a row because they insisted on nesting in a flower urn, just 4-feet tall. So no birdhouses here either, but then a snake can get just about anywhere they want. My husband walked out the front door a few years ago to find a black rat snake with big bulge (chipmunk or bird?) resting in the crook of the gutter above his head. And a friend sent me a photo last month of a black snake that had climbed a tree beside her house and grabbed a hummingbird from a feeder. Amazing!

    • Oh Goodness Marian, do you mind snakes or are you used to their presence. I’ve just looked up Black Rat and Copperhead snakes, we have nothing like that here just 3 species all comparatively small but they do eat birds and other small creatures I can count on one hand how many times I have seen one. Nature in the raw is sometimes hard to watch close up. Just looked up your Carolina wrens they are beautiful birds and look a little like our native Nuthatches.

  12. I love cats and always thought I’d have another, but, when I moved here the overgrown privet hedge was full of birds and with so few trees most birds nest on the ground, I had a blackbird nest in the rhubarb one year, so no cat, a few years ago I noticed the black cat visiting my garden and then a grey and white cat occasionally, now some of the trees I planted have grown a bit I’m not so worried as I feel the birds can get a way, infact here hedgehogs have been the big problem for the ground nesting birds which there are plenty of, the hedgehogs crack the eggs and eat the yokes,
    humans are the biggest danger to wildlife, well to all life, Frances

    • Regarding Humans, that is so true Frances. Interesting comment about Hedgehogs. For the first time in a few years, we now have quite a large one visiting our garden. Apparently they are really in decline in the south, I had not considered their diet may include birds eggs before. I love the thought too of a Blackbird nesting in your Rhubarb! 🙂

      • sorry Julie, I had meant to include in my comment yesterday condolences on the death of your beloved cat, I know how upsetting it can be, they become part of our families,

        yes I know hedgehogs are in decline in southern England, some people got very nasty when they found out they were being culled on Uists (south of Lewis), but it really was a choice of our native sea birds, many of which are in need of help, or the hedgehogs, in the end some people down south offered help to catch and rehome hedgehogs on the mainland, here’s a dumb animal story, they had fenced the areas where the seabirds breed to keep it hedgehog free, fine until the rabbits wanted to travel both sides of the fence so tunneled under as rabbits do, the hedgehogs went whoopee! and used the rabbit tunnels to have eggs for breakfast, 🙂 Frances
        if you are interested here’s a link to the blackbirds in the rhubarb post:
        https://islandthreads.wordpress.com/2005/06/16/blackbirds-in-the-rhubarb/

      • Frances, you make my day with your thoughtful and always interesting comments and posts.I followed your link – great story, I hope they all went on to successfully hatch. I had to laugh too at the thought of hedgehogs using the rabbit tunnels. Hopefully some did get re homed down south too. Best wishes, Julie

  13. Our cats used to be outdoor, but after all the publicity about the devastation they cause to birds, I opted to keep them indoors. They didn’t like it, of course, but they adjusted. They are healthier because they are no longer picking up parasites from their prey or the dreaded Lyme disease tick. Naturally, they are no longer keeping the rodent population in check, so my garden is the worst for it. I wish I could program them just to catch only rodents, but it is what it is!

    • Its a tricky balance Eliza, rodents can create a great deal of havoc but as you say a lot of cats do hunt birds.I couldn’t put a collar and bell on our cats, which was one possibility but its impossible if they have time outside to know what they are doing all of the time. Interesting you mention the Lyme disease tick, there is a lot of publicity here currently, but in the UK we are slow on the uptake with this disease, and the effects are not fully understood.

      • Left untreated Lyme is dreadful. We check ourselves and the dog every time we come in from outside. It feels paranoid, but it is justified. I’ve had it twice, it’s no picnic!

      • Sorry to hear that Eliza, I was listening to a radio programme this week and the symptoms described were really debilitating, I can understand why you are so cautious. The same radio programme also explained that not all ticks are infected with Lymes in the UK, but how are the general public to know which ones are and aren’t. I had not realised either that its spread by Foxes, Hedgehogs, Sheep and Badgers as well as Deer in the UK. I do check our dog and will start to be more careful and check us too.

      • Glad to hear that.
        Birds can be hosts and spread the disease, too, and because many migrate, they spread it to uninfected areas, accelerating its proliferation. Not fun! I say this not to make you fearful, but to be alert and cautious.

  14. A great post Julie. What a menagerie you had. Your dog is beautiful. I don’ t have a cat, but the neighbour has one which catches my birds, eats them and then regurgitates them in the garden. I do get cross about it. 55 million birds seems an awful lot. It is fun to have a birdbath. I love to watch the birds enjoying it.

    • What a charming neighbours cat! That figure was extrapolated from a small survey of 700, I found it hard to put in context as it’s such an enormous number.

  15. Hi Jules! I’ve so enjoyed looking at all your lovely photos. I am originally from England so it’s really special to see photos of all the birds I loved growing up…even the pigeons! This was such an interesting article because I have always had both inside and outside cats. I have lots of bird feeders and I find that our cats our just way too lazy to bother much with birds. Strangely enough they are much more interested in catching rodents and the odd mole which I guess is somewhat useful! Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Kate

    • Hi Kate, nice to meet you! I think our cats mainly chased rodents, we only saw Lolly go for the occasional bird. I see you have been over to England this year, I hope you came when we had good weather as its been a mixed bag. Pigeons get a very bad press as you know, but there are so many they must be survivors!

    • Our girls share our love of nature and the great outdoors, we feel really lucky to have spent so much time together enjoying the opportunities to observe given to us.

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