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Scat, cat!
May 4, 2010 12:58 PM   Subscribe

How can I best protect the baby birds in my backyard from a prowling neighborhood cat?

At this time last year two scrub jays had babies in a nest in a camellia tree in our backyard and when the baby birds came down to the ground as fledglings, a neighborhood cat attacked them and killed them. Their parents put up a good fight and tried to scare the cat off several times but in the end, the baby birds had not figured out how to fly in time for them to elude the cat. We watched helplessly as this all went down and it was pretty awful. We also tried scaring the cat away but couldn't be there 24-hours a day to provide a safe haven for the babies. Also, the adult jays were none too pleased having us around either.

Two scrub jays (the same?) are currently protecting another nest in our tree. We believe there are already babies in the nest. I would like to see if I can save them from meeting the same fate as their siblings from last year.

The cat is prowling again and the adults are squawking all day trying to scare it off. The cat is not all that alarmed by the dive-bombing birds. We do not know whose cat it is and furthermore, don't want to harm it in anyway. I would like to find a way to either repel the intruder cat or protect the nest.

I have some Shake Away Cat Repellent on its way to me (I had to order it online). Is that a sufficient measure? Is there anything I can do in the next few days before the Shake Away arrives? I've seen other cat repellents but I'm unclear if they are dangerous for birds. Scrub jay fledglings spend time on the ground, learning how to fly after they leave the nest; I don't want to put something on my lawn that will harm them. Additionally, I have a toddler that uses the backyard occasionally so it has to be something that won't present an issue for her.

I do not dislike cats and have one of my own. Generally, I don't even mind it being in our yard. I just don't want this cat hurting the babies. Last year's massacre was pretty traumatic as it was also our baby's one-year birthday and it was somewhat chilling to see this all unfold in our yard as I prepared to celebrate the anniversary of our baby's birth. It's sappy but I felt so bad for the parent birds!

(Our cat stays indoors and we are currently keeping the curtains drawn so that it doesn't taunt the birds as that seemed to be happening, too.)
posted by otherwordlyglow to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Water is harmless and will probably piss the cat off to no end.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2010


Do you have a garden hose? Is it possible to activate a garden hose from inside the house?
posted by amethysts at 1:03 PM on May 4, 2010


A nice sprinkler would do wonders. Particularly if you are out of sight and, just as the cat appoaches, *bam*, the sprinkler goes off. It would be best if the sprinkler in question was one of those with numerous flexible hoses on the end, whipping about like the thin tentacles of The Thing.
posted by adipocere at 1:07 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, I sympathize, my dog killed two years worth of jay fledglings until I started keeping him indoors during baby bird season.

Scented repellent is more to discourage cats from using loose soil as a litter box, cats aren't usually bothered by it otherwise but a motion-activated sprinkler should work.
posted by jamaro at 1:13 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you have access to cayenne pepper in bulk?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on May 4, 2010


Don't use cayenne. It can get into and seriously irritate the cat's eyes.

Before the birds fully fledge and are able to fly or hop upward into a bush away from the cat, I'd agree that the motion-activated sprinkler is the best plan. Problem is, the babies are pretty mobile on the ground even before they learn to fly -- so it would be hard to know where to train the sensor. You can usually tell from the parents' cries, however, where the babies have gotten off to. (There's a very particular scrub jay call that sounds like MYBABYISUNDERTHATBUSHSTAYAWAYYOUCAT!!!)

Once the babies are more able to fly, but still too stupid to know that they should avoid cats, you should outfit the neighbor's cat with one of these bibs. They're supposed to work better than bells, and they have the added advantage of giving you the right to point and laugh at the cat while telling him how ridiculous he looks. Since you don't know who owns the cat, maybe you could outfit him in the bib and attach a note to the owner explaining why.

And then point and laugh some more.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Using cayenne pepper as a repellent is tempting, as it's readily available... but it'll be a horror show if the critters (cats, squirrels, etc.) get it in their eyes either directly or by walking through it and then grooming themselves.

Claw-their-own-eyes-out sort of horror.
posted by CKmtl at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've also seen repellents prove ineffective, it is also possible to get little noise making devices which seemed to work to some extent when my ex-landlady used one. Anyone know what they are called?
posted by biffa at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2010


Is this cat a pet, or a stray? If the latter, maybe consider trapping it and dropping it off at a shelter.
posted by Bardolph at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2010


Ideally, you don't want the cat in your back yard ever. Start now with behavioral modification:

Motion. Activated. Sprinkler.
posted by TomMelee at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2010


Some sort of tree guard system.
posted by xod at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I totally empathize. Your kindness made me smile.

I have no idea if this would work - it might draw more cats and/or might just encourage this one to hang around more - but is it possible to give the prowling cat something entertaining in the far opposite part of the yard, so he gets attracted to that and leaves the birds alone?

If there's a way to seal off entry into the yard, you could try that just until the birds are safe?
posted by mrs. taters at 1:42 PM on May 4, 2010


Talk to the owners about putting a collar with a bell on it on the cat.
posted by bunny hugger at 1:49 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be tempted to trap the cat, turn it in to the shelter, and let the neighbors know where it is. And continue to do so until they get the hint.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a cat lover, I have 4, but my freedom with my animals ends at my property line.
posted by HuronBob at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Cats hate citrus-fruit peels & water. Booby-trap the yard with both, citrus fruit peels all around your property!
posted by dabitch at 3:10 PM on May 4, 2010


Ditto what HuronBob said.
posted by Seamus at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2010


...Or you could try some cougar, coyote, or fox urine. This will also possibly keep other mammals out of your yard (birds won't be affected since they can't smell - except for vultures). You can buy the stuff at local sporting goods equipment stores (of the "fins, fangs, and fur" variety, not the REI variety).
posted by dbmcd at 3:20 PM on May 4, 2010


Squirt ammonia at the cat using a dish-soap bottle.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:54 PM on May 4, 2010


I do not recommend doing anything that involves handling the cat, such as putting a collar or bell on it, or trapping it. I say this for two reasons:

1) If the cat is feral, in the unlikely event that it lets you get anywhere near it, trying to handle it is likely to get you bitten and/or scratched badly, possibly leading to infection. Dealing with a trapped feral cat is actually somewhat difficult, and could easily lead to injury on either your part or the cat's.

2) If I found out that the neighbors put a bell or bib on my cat without my consent, I would be really pissed. If I found out the neighbors trapped my cat and dropped it off at the local shelter, I would be really, incredibly fucking pissed. If I found out the neighbors accidentally injured my cat in the course of doing any of those things, I would take legal action. If you are interested in having a non-hostile relationship with the cat's owner, don't try to catch it.

I suggest a motion or manually activated sprinkler. Cats hate sprinklers. If you see the cat bothering the birds, squirt it with the hose, and don't be shy about it. Cats have good memories for danger -- one or two good dousings ought to scare it off for good.

If it continues to be a problem, try to find out who the owner is and talk to them about it; they may be sympathetic. If the cat is feral, talk to the local animal warden or SPCA about doing a Trap-Neuter-Release; if the cat gets trapped in your yard, it will remember that, and will not come back.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2010


2) If I found out that the neighbors put a bell or bib on my cat without my consent, I would be really pissed. If I found out the neighbors trapped my cat and dropped it off at the local shelter, I would be really, incredibly fucking pissed. If I found out the neighbors accidentally injured my cat in the course of doing any of those things, I would take legal action. If you are interested in having a non-hostile relationship with the cat's owner, don't try to catch it.

If I was the OP I'd be pissed someone's cat was in my yard killing the baby birds. Certainly, the OP should do their best not to harm someone's cat, but that cat is trespassing. The option to trap or put a bell on it are all viable ones.
posted by Atreides at 6:06 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You could pick up some cheap snow fencing (if such a thing exists in your area) and make a little orange nature preserve around your tree. Cheap beach fencing, the kind that's supposed to prevent wind erosion, might be similar.

It might be too late for this clutch of eggs, but you could prepare for the next one by making a "branching platform" sun porch kind of thing for the little birds to jump onto. It won't keep them off the ground, but it would give them a buffer zone between teetering on a branch and jumping completely down. This may let them mature to the point where they can more easily escape a cat if they do end up on the ground.

Squirt ammonia at the cat

Yeah, don't do this.

If you've read that ammonia is a cat repellent, it is. A bit of ammonia sprayed on surfaces and allowed to dry will sometimes keep some cats away. Ammonia squirted on an animal can cause airway irritation, skin burns, and eye ulceration. Seriously, a hatchet or pistol would be more humane.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:43 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Using cayenne pepper as a repellent is tempting, as it's readily available... but it'll be a horror show if the critters (cats, squirrels, etc.) get it in their eyes either directly or by walking through it and then grooming themselves.

Claw-their-own-eyes-out sort of horror.


That's not true at all. Lots of bird seed comes with cayenne pepper in it to repel squirrels (the birds can't taste it). IME squirrels certainly don't like cayenne pepper but they will often learn to tolerate it to get to tasty, tasty bird seed. Little bastards.

Those motion activated sprinklers are awesome though.
posted by fshgrl at 11:24 PM on May 4, 2010


Are you sure this cat actually belongs to somebody? Right now it seems like you need to view this less as somebodies pet and more as a feral predator. Call your local shelter, have them come and grab it, if anyone asks about it tell them where to find the little fella.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:04 AM on May 5, 2010


Okay so there are at least two baby birds looking ready to jump out any day. I just saw them looking longingly over the edge of the nest. I currently have the sprinkler set up to turn on if I hear the adults squawking over the intruder. We don't have a motion-sensing sprinkler and I'm unwilling to have it running all day. I might be able to rig up a hose from the kitchen to spray the cat directly if I see him but that's a bit beyond my abilities right now.

I don't plan on using cayenne, ammonia, or anything similarly noxious. I don't know whose cat it is but it's clearly someone's pet and I don't want to trap it or turn in a neighbor for letting their cat run around. I hope the little birdies make it- they're super cute.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:59 PM on May 5, 2010


Please let me know if you find a good solution that doesn't involve water. We've got a cat that's been prowling our garden as well, but sprinklers are a no-go in Sydney (due to water restrictions).
posted by web-goddess at 12:44 AM on May 6, 2010


No conclusive results to report. The fledglings were spotted on the ground last Friday (almost a week ago).

We sprinkled the edges of our yard with Shake Away Cat Repellent (which our cat really did hate) and had the sprinkler on a bit. We saw the cat a couple more times but never witnessed a kidnapping though we were around for most of the three days following. The commotion in the backyard has defintiely subsided and the adults are no longer swooping in whenever we go back there so we don't know if the fledglings made it or if the cat was just super stealthy.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:31 AM on May 13, 2010


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