Recently a reader shared that he had noticed a dramatic drop in birds visiting his yard and feeders. If you’ve had this happen, it can be for a number of reasons. Today, however, I’d like to discuss how predators can impact who’s visiting your yard.

An abrupt absence of birds can be because something dangerous is lurking in the area. A wide variety of animals, including other birds, prey on birds. Chief among these are hawks, falcons and some owls. I’ve had Goshawks, Merlin’s, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks patrol my feeders looking for an easy meal. Crows, Blue Jays and even smaller birds like chickadees will often mob these hunters until they move along. If this fails, then the hunted will leave the area. Once the predator leaves, the regulars are usually quick to return.

If you have a more persistent absence of birds, you may need to investigate further. In the case of this recent reader, the most likely culprit was cats. Numerous studies have come to a clear conclusion…our friendly house cat is a significant predator of wild birds if allowed to roam. I know this statement can draw battle lines between cat people and bird people. Let me say that I’m both. I have had a number of pet cats which I loved dearly. Many of my friends and most of my family have cats. Some are kept as indoor pets and some are allowed to roam free. Regardless of where you fall with cats, love them or hate them, there are a couple of things which we all should recognize.

First, cats are serious predators. They are ambush hunters and seem to be programed to stalk, catch and kill small animals, including birds, even when they aren’t hungry. It is estimated that cats account for 1.4 to 3.7 billion bird deaths annually. In many environmentally sensitive areas of the world, cats are considered a significant cause of the decline of many types of birds.

Second, cats are an “introduced” species which have thrived with our help. Estimates suggest there are as many as 95 million cats in the U.S. with half or more stray or feral.

So, what’s to be done? It would be foolish to think that we are going to change the nature of our pets. Cats hunt. The best strategy both for birds and cats is to keep your pet indoors. Also, spaying and neutering prevents unwanted offspring. These are the simplest and most effective ways to ensure a long life for both your cat and the birds in your yard.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

W. Carter

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