The chances are you have a cat that enjoys hunting. It is natural for your cat to hunt despite you providing tasty food a couple of times a day. If you are anything like the author, you have probably observed your cat watching birds and perhaps even jumping at the window if a bird alights on the window sill. When outside, you may well have seen your cat stalk and pounce on an unsuspecting bird. If this is the case for you and your cat or cats, you have probably asked yourself; do cats eat birds?
Yes, cats do eat birds. However, not all cats will eat the entire bird; and avoid eating the beak, gizzard, wing belly, tail and upper feathers, and large bones. Cats will hunt birds for ‘sport’ and the mental stimulation of a hunt. In most cases, cats eat birds when lacking adequate nutrition from their daily diet.
In this article, we will be answering why cats eat birds and whether it is normal for them to do so. We will also be looking at the kinds of birds cats are likely to eat if it is safe for them to do so and if your cat can get sick from eating a bird. We will provide tips on what to do if your cat does catch a bird and how you can stop your cat hunting birds.
Why Is My Cat Eating Birds
There are several reasons your cat is eating birds. It could be that your cat has a biological need to eat the bird; your cat is hungry, or your cat is bored with its diet. Let’s look at each one of these explanations;
1. Your Cat Has A Biological Need To Eat The Bird
Taurine is an amino acid that obligate carnivores, like cats, need. Taurine helps to support vision, the immune system, heart function, and digestion. Taurine is naturally found in animal flesh.
Cats need a lot of Taurine and, unfortunately, do not produce enough of it themselves. Therefore, many cats hunt to kill to satisfy their need for certain nutrients, like taurine. If your cat is eating birds, it could be because it feels the need for more taurine.
2. Your Cat Is Hungry
This is pretty self-explanatory; if your cat is hungry, they will hunt and kill animals, including birds, to satisfy their hunger. If you keep feral cats for pest control, which you do not feed, you may have noticed the cats hunt and wondered why they are not just hunting the rodent vermin.
Well, if your cat has not had success with rodents and is hungry, it will go for whatever is available; cockroaches, geckos, and birds.
3. Your Cat Is Bored With Their Diet
Cats like variety in what they eat. If your cat is bored with the food that you are giving them, they will hunt to kill for a different taste. It is always good to alternate what you feed your cat not to become bored and get different nutrients.
Is It Normal For Cats To Kill And Eat Birds?
It is normal for cats to kill and eat birds. Cats are natural predators that hunt to survive in the wild. Our domesticated kitties have retained their hunting instinct, so it should not be surprising to see your cat kill and eat a bird.
In fact, according to research published in the Nature Communications Journal in 2013, cats in the United States are thought to be responsible for killing between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds a year!
As obligate carnivores, cats seek meat to eat. The digestive system of a cat is designed to process meat. Not just meat, but a cat’s gut can also process bones. Raw bones contain some of the minerals that a cat needs to stay healthy. These include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
If your cat’s body tells them that it needs some of those minerals, a cat’s instinct is to find a source of them, namely fresh bones. Additionally, chewing bones can be good for a cat’s oral health by strengthening teeth and satisfying the need to gnaw.
Do Cats Eat Birds When They Catch Them
Some cats will eat birds when they catch them, but not every cat. If a cat is hungry, it is likely to eat the bird when it catches it to satisfy its appetite. If your cat is not hungry, it was the thrill of the hunt that motivated your cat to catch a bird.
It is harder for a cat to catch a bird than to catch a rodent or gecko. Cats have the patience to sit by the hiding place of rodents and wait for them to come out. When the naïve rodent comes out, cats pounce!
However, birds fly, so cats find it harder to catch them. As agile animals, it is not unusual to see cats pulling some pretty impressive acrobatics when trying to catch a bird. Twisting and turning in the air, the sight of the hunt is impressive.
You may hear your cat make a throaty trill sound when they are watching birds. This is not a distress call but more of a frustrated noise when a cat recognizes that this prey is out of its reach.
A cat may also eat a bird if it feels the need for taurine, an amino acid that cats do not produce naturally enough but need to function well.
Is it Safe For Cats To Eat Birds
It is safe for cats to eat a bird, provided the bird itself is healthy and disease-free. If the bird is not healthy or carries parasites, it can create a hazard for your cat.
A cat’s digestive system can process meat and raw bones (cooked bones are not suitable for cats, and you should never feed your cat cooked bones). However, feathers and beaks can pose a problem to cats.
Cats cannot digest feathers and beaks because the molecular structure of bird beaks and the spine of a feather is beta-keratin. The components of a cat’s digestive system cannot break down and digest beta-keratin.
Furthermore, cats that eat feathers may encounter difficulties when trying to swallow them. Feathers can cause blockages in a cat’s airways and respiratory system. In a similar way to hairballs, you may come across your cat trying to cough up the feathers.
The other consideration is that feathers can puncture or lacerate a cat’s mouth or esophagus. As a feather breaks, it has sharp points that can cause issues for a cat.
At this point, it might be worthwhile suggesting that you do not use feathers as toys for your cat for the reasons above. Also, feathers incorporated into toys are often dyed. If your cat chews one of those feathers, it could consume some of the dye.
Can Cats Get Sick From Catching A Bird
If the bird is not healthy or carries parasites, it can make your cat sick when they catch and eat it.
Like many wild creatures, birds can be infected with parasites such as roundworms or tapeworms, which can then be transferred to your cat if your cat eats the bird it has caught.
A common disease that cats can catch from birds is ‘Songbird Fever’ or salmonellosis. It is a strain of salmonella bacteria that is spread between birds through their droppings.
Birds are not the easiest prey for cats to catch. However, if a bird is sick or weak, it becomes more vulnerable and more manageable for a cat to catch.
The cat that catches it may not detect that all is not well with the bird before eating it. Once eaten, the salmonella, or ‘Songbird Fever’ can infect your cat and make them sick.
‘Songbird Fever’ signs to look for in your cat include vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, a fever, and blood in any diarrhea. Treatment includes fluid therapy and antibiotics. A cat can be sick for a week to 10 days if infected with ‘Songbird Fever.’
Cats can catch Avian Influenza, also known as Bird Flu. The Bird Flu strain H5N1 can affect humans, although it cannot be transmitted to humans via an infected cat.
It is worth noting that it is unusual for a cat to eat a dead bird that it has not caught itself; cats generally will not eat carrion.
Can My Cat Die From Eating A Bird
Cats do not usually die from eating birds. However, if a bird has infected your cat with a disease, it can be mortal for your cat.
Although most ‘Songbird Fever’ infections are curable, there are occasions when your cat cannot fully recover. This is often part of some underlying issues with your cat; they could be very old, immune-compromised, or very young.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, if your cat struggles with the feathers of a bird in its throat, it could choke and die. If you see your cat eating a bird, observe that your cat is alright and seek veterinary care if you are unsure.
Should I Stop My Cat From Eating A Bird
It is a good idea to stop your cat from eating a bird. As mentioned, birds can carry and pass on parasites or diseases to your cat and potentially you.
If your cat is not used to eating birds, the bird’s meat and feathers can irritate your cat’s stomach. This can make your cat vomit or regurgitate their avian meal.
It is unusual for a cat to eat carrion; it is unlikely that your cat would get sick from eating ‘bad’ meat. However, if you are not sure that the bird your cat is eating was freshly killed by your cat, then you definitely ought to carefully remove the dead bird and dispose of it.
Ensure that you wear gloves as you do this, as wild birds can carry diseases that can infect humans.
What Kind Of Birds Do Cats Eat
Cats generally hunt and eat small birds. Birds such as wrens, sparrows, and finches can be popular dinner items.
Occasionally, cats will target larger birds such as pigeons or even chickens. But this is not common.
Cats are considered one of the biggest threats to bird populations by ornithologists. In New Zealand, cats have been attributed to the extinction of at least six endemic bird species. Cats are an invasive species in New Zealand, and the native flightless bird populations are not adapted to a feline predator.
In the South Atlantic Ocean, On Ascension Island introduced feral cats hunted sea birds and are blamed for the collapse of some sea bird colonies. In 2002, a project was undertaken to remove all cats from Ascension Island.
Since the project’s completion, seabirds that had not been recorded as having nested on the island in some time have returned, and endemic populations have grown.
Pete Marra, former Head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, attributes the extinction of approximately 33 bird species directly to cats.
How Do Birds Get Caught By Cats
Cats stalk their prey, including birds, by crouching close to the ground and taking tentative, stealthy steps towards the prey while watching it closely.
Cats will pause between each step and hope that the bird does not notice their approach.
Depending on the cat, the coat provides effective camouflage amongst shadows. Some birds, such as Passiformes, cannot see a cat well as their eyes are adapted for bright colors, which help them catch insects such as dragonflies or ladybugs.
Once the cat is close enough, they will pounce and swipe at the bird with one or both outstretched paws and extended claws. Often this can maim the bird long enough for a cat to secure a good hold.
Sometimes, a bird will try to launch into the air when it sees a cat, but it cannot take flight quickly enough and so the cat will catch it.
As most cat owners will agree, cats are intelligent animals. It is not uncommon to observe a cat ambush an area that it has noted birds frequent.
This could be a feeder or bird bath. One of the author’s cats constantly tries to find her way to the roof where bird nests are.
It is worth remembering that many birds caught by cats are sick or weak.
How Do I Stop My Cat Catching Birds
There are few things that you can do to stop your cats from catching birds
Keep Your Cat Indoors
This may be easier said than done, depending on your cat. But there is an increasing call by some to keep domestic cats inside to protect wildlife. In some US states, it is a local law that cats should be kept indoors. It has also been proposed in Perth, Australia.
If keeping your cat indoors full time is not a feasible option, try to at least keep your cat indoors at sunrise and sunset, when birds are more vulnerable.
Another option could be to make a cat run. Much like a rabbit or ferret enclosure, you could build an enclosure in your garden for your cat to hang out in. Then your cat can still experience being outdoors, but birds can be safe.
Finally, you could consider an underground electric fence to keep your cat on your property, so they do not hunt and roam.
Put A Bell Onto Your Cat’s Collar
The tinkle of a bell can provide a fair warning to a bird that a predator is approaching. Bells are an inexpensive addition to a cat collar and can help reduce the catch success rate of birds. (In 2015, McGregor et al. found that feral domesticated cats have a hunting success rate of 32%.
The British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds notes that a cat wearing a bell reduces its bird catch success rate by 41 %!).
Cat collars specifically designed to warn birds of a cat’s approach have also been developed. Using bright colors so that birds like the Passiforme can register a cat is close by, these cat collars have proven successful in reducing bird deaths but do not affect a cat’s ability to catch rodents.
Spay And Neuter
By spaying or neutering your cat, you can reduce any aggression in your cat. By reducing aggression, you may help to prevent your cat from needlessly hunting birds.
Additionally, if your cat cannot reproduce, it will not parent unwanted kittens and add to a burgeoning cat population.
Interact And Play With Your Cat
By playing with your cat and spending time with them, you can reduce the urge to hunt. Using safe toys to encourage the hunting instinct can reduce the urge to hunt birds and tire out your cat to be too lazy to pursue one.
Keep Your Cat Well-Fed
It is unlikely that a caring cat owner will not ensure that their feline companion has plenty to eat. But in case of this, a way to reduce cats hunting birds is to keep your cat well-fed so that they do not hunt for hunger. Ensure you provide a varied, healthy diet.
What To Do If Your Cat Catches A Bird
If your cat catches a bird, try to distract your cat with its favorite toy or food. You should not chase your cat; it will just run away. If you chase your cat or shout at it, your cat may become nervous around you or think you are playing a game. Your cat is just following their instincts and should not be chastised for hunting.
If you manage to get the bird and are injured, you can take it to a shelter or veterinarian to see if they can assist.
If the bird is dead, you should dispose of it. Remember to wear gloves and protect yourself when handling birds, as some birds carry harmful diseases to humans.
Things To Consider
Vaccinations – Always keep your cat’s vaccinations up to date. It will help to protect them against any diseases that a bird may be carrying.
Fleas and Ticks – Birds can also carry fleas or ticks, ensuring that your cat has adequate protection from fleas and ticks, either through a flea collar or through regular treatments.
Quick Release Collar – Always ensure that your cat’s collar has a quick-release mechanism. A quick-release mechanism enables your cat to escape in case of entanglement. Think tree branches.
Disease Transmission to Humans – Humans can contract some of the diseases that birds may carry.
If your cat has contracted ‘Songbird Fever’, you must monitor yourself closely for any symptoms and make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after touching your cat.
As mentioned, some birds may carry the Bird Flu virus. While it is not currently possible to catch bird flu from cats, if you are removing your cat’s catch or rescuing an injured bird, you must be mindful of the risks posed by handling a wild bird and take appropriate precautions. These include wearing gloves and facemasks as well as regular hand washing.
Consult A Veterinarian – If you have any doubts about your cat after seeing them catch or eat a bird, always seek the advice of a veterinarian.