feral cats are decimating the local songbird population
April 23, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I would like to protect the wild bird population in my neighborhood. Our neighbor keeps feeding the feral cats.

I would really like to see the Quail population increase, along with the other birds. I think the feral cats are killing off the quail, according to anecdotal accounts, and there is an older woman buying 50 lb. bags of cat food and feeding the feral cat population.

Is there a humane way to deal with feral cats, i.e. get them out of my neighborhood?

I also don't want to traumatize this poor woman who is probably very attached to them.

Perhaps I could create some cat-proof nesting habitat for the quail. I'm at a loss as to how to solve this three-pronged dilemma.
posted by craniac to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
If the woman is feeding the cats, won't they be less likely to hunt the quail for food?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:40 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

not really, alot of cats hunt for fun.
posted by the cuban at 8:43 AM on April 23, 2007

How feral are the cats? Would you be able to get collars with bells on them?
posted by occhiblu at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2007

I bet a good dosing of coyote urine will scare them away. Spread around liberally at night, getting all the known entrances and hiding spots. Cats will disappear.
posted by unixrat at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2007

Why don't you introduce some feral dogs?
posted by davey_darling at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Call animal control for your city and ask them if they can make an effort to remove the cats.

And be prepared for you cat-crazy neighbors to hate you. House cats are not native wild animals to the US and present a legitimate threat to the native bird population, so you rational is there.

I love cats. But I don't think they belong outside.
posted by smallerdemon at 9:04 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

occhiblu - I've had house cats with no front claws that could still take down blue jays even though they were wearing bell collars. I think these feral kitties are probably quite good at hunting.
posted by utsutsu at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2007

Best answer: Invest in defensive robotic prosthetics for quails.

But seriously: It's only a three-pronged dilemma by anecdote. Contact your county outreach office (that's not the name, I just can't think of it--it's an agri thing that I think all counties have and they know all about local plants and animals). They can tell you if quail populations are lower than they should be and if feral cats are to blame.
posted by DU at 9:10 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

One wonders if introducing another artificial variable into the micro-ecosystem is really the way to go. Cat-Lady has obviously done so with her feeding the local feral cat population, and now you want to control that because you like the birds better.

From an environmental perspective, the only way you can restore the "original" balance between the cats and birds is to get the lady to stop feeding the cats, whose numbers will very likely drop since there wont be enough food to support them all.

Trying to secretly control the cat population (without annoying the Cat-Lady) might just make it worse and efforts to "protect" the birds with some kind of enclosure will probably just drive them away.
posted by elendil71 at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: She's not doing any favors to the cats either, not in the long term anyway. The best thing to do would be to trap the cats and get them fixed and checked out by a vet, and removed from the area and adopted out. And if the old lady keeps one, get a collar with a bell. Maybe you could talk to her about this--is she able bodied enough to tackle it? Though they're based in the Bay Area, you could call the Feral Cat Foundation and ask them for advice, or here's a couple of groups in Salt Lake.
posted by tula at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2007

The quail have many other natural predators, like hawks, and will survive. Domestic cats often kill (my) quail. But then raccoons will pick off the cats, and coyotes get the raccoons. Leave them alone and observe. If you're super concerned about your neighbor, you could invite Cheney over for a bit of hunting.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2007

Talking with her doesn't really seem like "traumatizing" her. Bake some brownies or whatever to ease the horror and go knocking. For all we know, she's feeling overwhelmed and would love some help getting the cats adopted. Just don't be one of those holier-than-thou "cats should never be outside" types; approach her gently with your concerns.

That said, are you sure your neighborhood is good for quail? I'm no expert, but they can be very particular and even slight changes to local field edges and such can drive them away, perhaps more effectively than predators. You might get more info from these folks, who can help create the right mix of cover and food.
posted by mediareport at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2007

Not that I would expect you to buy these for all your feline friends, but it might be of interest to other bird-loving cat owners: the cat bib. It's supposed to work too.
posted by gavia at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2007

In a neighborhood near me, there was a group that caught, neutered, and re-released feral cats. I have no actual knowledge of the outcome, but it seems like it would be a humane and effective, if not all-that-quick solution.
posted by SampleSize at 9:42 AM on April 23, 2007

Interesting - I was just reading this article about the problems associated with feral cats.

Feral cats can never be turned into pets. They are wild animals. The most humane thing to do (for the cats, not the quail) would be to trap them, have them fixed, and then release them back into their habitat. I don't know if your neighbor would consider this or not. Probably not - most feral cat feeders have no idea how feral cats can negatively affect the environment around them.

If you were up for a project, quail eggs are commonly available. You
could raise some quail and supplement the local population.
posted by Ostara at 9:54 AM on April 23, 2007

I had a somewhat similar problem here. Basically the neighbours' cats were outside a lot and preyed on the birds in my yard, though I never saw them after the many, many quail that are here. I set up fencing and barriers to make it difficult for cats to get in my yard. They stay out. There are lots more birds in my yard. You may find quail nesting in your yard at that point.
posted by Listener at 11:06 AM on April 23, 2007

Nature has a fantastic system in place and it's so simple it's perfect. Birds that are no good at being birds- food or just dead. Cats that are shitty cats- food or just dead. Useless anything, it's just gone. No more uselessness passed on to the next generation. And yet people...

My cats get a bird or what have you from time to time and I honestly couldn't care less. The unimaginable amount they stalk only to be mocked by groups of birds would lead me to believe that they did not catch a bird but infact just found food. Because birds are far smarter than that and they continue to breed.

I must admit when we lived on a farm they did seem to catch more than the odd Quail. Why? Because Quails are fodder. Like cows and corn. That's the whole point of them because they are not bright animals are they?

Quails may also carry disease are you aware of this? You may be comfortable with breaking an obviously lonely old ladys heart (She may just be feeding them so her neighbors will come and speak to her...) in order to create a potential health risk by increasing the population of what could quite reasonably be suspected of being the carriers of filthy illnesses, but perhaps you may find other alternatives equally satisfying?

There are feral cats and then those that have been dumped and have become a little independent. Nothing you said gave even the vaguest hint they're actually feral. Anybody who has experienced them will have a tale, scars or both to share.

There are many way to approach this the obvious way would to begin with the lady that knows them best.

Just out of curiosity how many cats are there?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:24 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ask a vet or the humane society about any spay-neuter programs in your area. My neighbor traps the feral cats in our neighborhood, takes them to Raleigh to be "fixed" at minimum cost then brings them back (they nominally belong to an elderly couple but they are pretty much feral-you can't pet them or anything. The couple is fine with what my neighbor is doing.) It has not totally eliminated the problem but we do have fewer cats-and I am seeing more birds and squirrels this year than last (we moved here last summer.)
posted by konolia at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2007

This thread is hilarious, especially The Confessor.

raccoons will pick off the cats

Huh? Sure cats and 'coons fight from time to time, but it's over food, not as predator/prey. Coyotes will eat both of them though, unless it's a giant 'coon.

mu~ha~ha~ha~har, your analysis would be great if only cats were a native, natural predator that quail had to deal with throughout time. They're not. Over the course of generations, the quail might adapt to the cats, but the question was about preserving the current quail population.

As for the question, I'd get animal control out there to get the cats and maybe buy the old lady some bird feeders and seed. She probably just wants some animals to watch and to feel needed by someone/thing. The birds will cover both of those bases and could also serve as a peace offering in case she blames you for getting rid of the strays.
posted by jaysus chris at 12:45 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some feral cats do just fine as pets. Our cat was feral--born to a feral mother, raised in the wild, ~2 years old when we caught her. We've had her for a year and a half now and she voluntarily comes inside to hang out (cat door) and loves attention from people she knows. Keeping her in an apartment would probably be cruel, but she's absolutely thriving with a big yard and humans to scratch her back.

That having been said, neuter and release is a good way to control the population, as it's more difficult to find good homes for adult cats. Lots and lots and lots of places already have neuter and release programs, and lots of vets will give you a discount if they know you're doing it for feral cats. (It's also a good idea to get them vaccinated for rabies, see below.)

There are good reasons not to kill or remove the cats, number one being that they eat rodents and things in addition to birds (no really, our cat catches four or more rodents for every bird). Number two is that something else will eat the quail anyway, since quail are, uh, slow, plump, ground-dwelling...even in major cities you will get coyotes, and they'd have no problem eating quail. Number three is that more cats will move in if you get rid of these, if you can get these cats vaccinated then they will mostly keep other (presumably non-vaccinated) cats from coming in, which is a good way to keep your neighborhood safer, more important then birds.
posted by anaelith at 12:55 PM on April 23, 2007

we trapped, fixed & gave shots to the feral cats in our neighborhood, and then re-released them; we really had to, as there is a HUGE problem with river rats, mice, squirrels etc. along our unpaved alleys near the river - so much so that our vegetable gardens are frequently destroyed by possums, raccoons and squirrels hunting for grubs and roots. The now-stable numbers of these feral cat colonies do a great job keeping vermin out of the neighborhood, and since the established colonies mostly keep to themselves, they don't harass pet cats or dogs either. before we had them all fixed, we could simply trap the babies and get them adopted pretty easily.

i have not noticed our large songbird population significantly impacted by these cats. they are so well-fed by the mice and squirrels that the only birds i ever see them kill are slow pigeons, which are certainly not endangered, and sometimes hummingbirds, which outnumber the cats by 10 to 1 pretty easily.
posted by luriete at 1:06 PM on April 23, 2007

I used to have this exact problem where I used to live, minus the bird angle. My neighborhood was overrun with feral cats who drove my indoor dogs insane and woke me up at 5 in the morning, every morning, by screeching the most godawful noise outside my window.

And of course, my whole block was split pretty evenly between lonely, elderly cat-women and young families with kids, all of whom were feeding them.

My solution was to work with the local Humane Society. I don't know if they all do this (it sounds like they do from other's posts), but the one local to me would give me traps. I would place the traps with food in my back yard, and when I caught a cat I would drive them over to the shelter. The Humane Society would euthanize the truly feral (as in, bat-shit crazy diseased attack cats) and adopt the rest out after spay/neutering and giving them shots. They did this at no charge to me, even picking up the traps was free. The Humane Society wants people to do this, because the more cats they sterilize the less kittens they have to find homes for (and subsequently euthanize when there aren't enough homes).

Just be sure to warn your neighbors first. A couple of mine let their pets run all over the neighborhood with no tags or collars and then got pissed when they had to go pick them up from the shelter.

I don't really understand the point of owning a cat if it's going to spend all day and night annoying the shit out of your neighbor's dogs on their property, but that's another question I guess. I wouldn't let me dogs roam free, I don't understand why a lot of cat people think it's acceptable for their animals to do the same.
posted by bradbane at 2:09 PM on April 23, 2007

There's information about doing Trap, Neuter, Release programs here.

It's not an instant solution, but in the long run it seems like the best use of limited resources.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2007

The person feeding the feral population is creating the problems. Ferals are a perfect mechanism for turning excess cat food into kittens. If the extra food input she's providing were removed from the area, in a couple years, the density of ferals would likely fall (by operation of Malthusian principles), and the birds would have a fair chance. But in the present circumstances, there are probably more ferals than the available rodent supply could regularly support, and so you are going to have excessive bird predation.

I agree with bradbane' suggestion entirely, although many less well heeled shelters will not have excess traps to lend, particularly in warm areas. Still, buying your own trap(s) isn't all that expensive, and gives you flexibility in experimenting with different siting and baiting, all year 'round. I trap with a few other guys in a neighborhood area of about 600 square blocks in a Northern Florida city. We turn over about 100 feral cats a year to local shelters. Catch and release isn't all that effective in this area because of the number of people who continue to feed strays, and the local shelters are mandated by law to handle ferals delivered to them. If we could stop people feeding the ferals, trap and release would be more effective, but that's really working against human nature, from what I've seen.
posted by paulsc at 2:39 PM on April 23, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed -- please remember the OP is looking for humane solutions
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:04 AM on April 24, 2007

Response by poster: Apologies for returning so late to the thread--we went out of town for three days shortly after I posted. Amidst the frequent snotty comments there are some great solutions in here. I am not a bird lover or cat lover, and the anecdotal evidence about decreasing populations comes from the observations of neighbors who have seen fewer nests over time in their yard, and I have seen the sightings of quail decrease in the past year.

I will contact the agencies everyone provided and create a handout for neighbors detailing methods of creating safe habitat if they are into that.

Our japanese exchange student is very fond of quail eggs as well, so maybe we should start raising some.
posted by craniac at 6:37 PM on April 26, 2007

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