It’s a situation cat owners are all too familiar with: your feline friend has brought a mutilated animal to your doorstep, or even worse, into your bed. While your cat’s intentions are to simply display its affection for you, it unknowingly contributes to the death of hundreds of millions of wild animals in Canada every year at the hands of domestic cats. But there is hope for your pet to remain outdoors and reduce its toll on local wildlife. Two new studies have found that a novel invention known as the Birdsbesafe collar dramatically reduces the number of wild birds and other animals that domestic cats kill, all while making your cat look clownishly flamboyant.
The Birdbesafe collar utilizes different animals’ color vision, especially birds, to make it harder for cats to hunt. Birds have acute color vision, and can easily see a large, bright-color collar with high contrast, giving them an advantage in avoiding cats. The Birdsbesafe was invented by an environmentalist trained in biology from Vermont, and became available for sale online in 2009.
Domestic cats may kill more wild birds in Canada than any other human-related activity. Studies from Environment Canada estimate that cats kill between 100 million and 350 million wild birds in the country every year, and up to 7 per cent of all birds living in Southern Canada. About 90 per cent of these birds are small songbirds, but cats do occasionally prey upon waterfowl and seabirds. One of the new studies on the Birdsbesafe collar found that cats only return 23 per cent of their kills to their owners, so their actual predation rates may be much higher than what they bring home.
Less information exists on how many small mammals Canadian cats kill annually. A study led by the Smithsonian Institute estimated that cats kill up to 12.3 billion mammals in the United States annually, with similar rates probably occurring in the rest of North America.
“This area is very symptomatic to what’s happening everywhere else [in Canada],” said Pam Novak, Director of Wildlife Care at the Atlantic Wildlife Institute (AWI) in Cookville, New Brunswick. The AWI is New Brunswick’s only licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, and is a 30-minute drive from Sackville.
Novak said that the AWI receives many birds that have been attacked by cats and lived, but that many die within 48 hours due to the bacteria from feline mouths. Any cat owner who finds an injured animal attacked by their pet can call AWI to have it taken into rehabilitation.
“We always promote that cats be kept as indoor pets,” said Novak, “as an owner of a cat, we need to be responsible for not having your cat going out and wandering free.”
Two independent studies have now verified that the colourful collar significantly reduces the number of birds and mammals domestic cats can hunt.
A study published in the journal Global Conservation and Ecology by researchers from St. Lawrence University in New York found that cats wearing the Birdsbesafe collar killed 19 times fewer birds during the spring and 3.4 times fewer during the fall. The study took place over two 12-week periods in upstate New York, near Ottawa and Montreal.
Another, independent study from Murdoch University in Western Australia found that the Birdsbesafe collar reduced cats’ wild bird prey by 54 per cent. The study took place over two years and tracked 114 cats, and was published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Ninety-six per cent of these cats’ owners said their pet didn’t mind their collar or got used to it within two days.
These studies demonstrate that the Birdsbesafe collar is more effective at stopping cats from hunting wild animals than other feline accessories. Collars with bells attached to them can help animals sense hunting cats, but cats are able adapt their behaviour to minimize the sound these bells make. Similar results were found in an electronic collar that beeped every 7 seconds, as well as an apron-like collar that blocks cats’ paws during an attack.
Illustration by Anna Farrell.