Pet Cats Do Not Belong in a Wildlife Habitat!
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
I love cats. The main reason I keep my two rescue cats indoors is because I want them to live an average of 15 long happy years with me. Their outdoor counterparts rarely make it past 5 years. I don’t see many outdoor cats in my urban neighborhood and I wonder if it’s because there are so many dangers, including speeding cars, predators (e.g. coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls), poisons (e.g. antifreeze, pesticides, rodenticides, copperheads), and diseases (e.g.parasites, feline leukemia). The other reason I keep my cats inside is because they are an invasive species and would have an oversized negative effect on neighborhood wildlife. I’m a bird lover and cats are the single worst threat to birds caused directly by humans; responsible for contributing to the alarming 29% decline of birds in North America in the last 50 years. In a National Park Service study it was found that parks with 25 or more cats in them had 50% fewer birds in them than parks without cats. Reducing the number of predatory feral cats is a difficult, complicated, and contentious issue, yet how to stop pet cats from killing wildlife has a simple solution: keep them indoors!
Recently, on the same day I posted about how to attract birds by planting a winter seedhead garden I walked outside and found a pile of mourning dove bird feathers near my walkway. I knew the culprit. A beautiful fluffy fat grey cat has been skulking around my yard knowing it has a 70% chance to kill its prey in the open when the leaves were off the trees, bushes. and plants.
My small yard is a certified Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, NWF Wildlife Habitat and a Gold Certified Georgia Native Plant Society Native Plant Habitat yet I can’t completely prevent a cat from wandering through it to wreak havoc with the natural ecosystem. I don’t think it was a coincidence I found the feathered remains the day after the first frost when any leaves left on plants had withered and the landscape was even more open and less protective for birds.
I was so frustrated about finding the dove that I posted on Nextdoor asking neighbors to please keep their cats inside. Not surprisingly, some people insisted fluffy belongs outside as part of “the circle of life”. This would be the equivalent of saying a lion roaming our neighborhood hunting people would be part of the circle of life! Pet cats have been domesticated for almost 10,000 years and are in no way native to North America. Even feral cats will seek shelter and food near human activity.
I wish cats and wildlife could coexist in my naturalized yard, but this is just not possible, so I combine several natural, environmentally-friendly tactics to deter cats from my yard.
Cats like soft smooth ground not rough or spikey surfaces. My naturescaped leaf-covered yard is a start and I make it even more undesirable for cats by leaving or arranging twigs, small branches and pinecones that fall to the ground around areas where birds might be foraging. I also regularly scatter nutshells (mainly pistachios) and washed crushed eggshells.
Cats are repelled by the peels I throw in the yard whenever we eat citrus fruit.
Another scent cats hate is lavender so I buy the organic buds by the pound to spread around the perimeter of my yard.
I love the smell of coffee, but cats seem to detest being anywhere near the grounds which I pepper my yard with. .
One of the most effective ways to tell cats our yard is not open for business is to crank the windows open just enough so any visiting cats can hear our dogs barking when they're in the yard!
Unfortunately, the saddest reason I stop seeing a visiting cat is because they are unnecessarily at risk for meeting the same ultimate fate as the unfortunate mourning dove I found.