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I'm about to move and a really promising location in a new city and it's surrounded by a large forest and bird sanctuary. That's great to me, but to my cat I suspect it will mean the beginning of his reign as a genocidal maniac against the local birds. On the one hand, regardless of where I move it seems this cat will be a bane on wildlife. On the other hand, given that this is a bird sanctuary, it feels particularly wrong to move there with this cat and just let it do its thing.

TL;DR skipping details on bottom: 3 year old Cat is very active and violent, otherwise a good cat to us humans. Never able to keep a collar or even harnesses on him. We rescued him off the streets and he's only semi-domesticated, keeping him indoors seems like barely an option.

With all that in mind, what can we do regarding this move and this cat to minimize disturbance to the bird sanctuary? Is it a no go, either we don't move there or we give away the cat? Is there any training or equipment we can use to minimize him disturbing the bird sanctuary? We could try to force him to be an indoor cat but I don't think he'll handle that well, it seems very against his nature. We could just let him do his thing, but we care a lot about the forest and know that cats can wreak havoc on its wildlife.


Some background on the cat: my partner and I met this cat as it meowed from under a porch as we were discussing getting a cat, an idea that we'd been considering for a few weeks. It was mid-February in a northern climate and very cold and snowy. We meowed at the cat for a bit and pretty fast he came and met us. We inspected the cat, picking him up and checking his fur and body out. He was pretty clean, no fleas we could see, seemed to be in good health. His paws and teeth indicated that this cat had been leaving outdoors for at least a few months, and he was mature but <1 year old from what the vet said.

We've had this cat for a few years now. He was a real terror at first in terms of violence; he was mostly playful and not that aggressive but he was strong and intense in playing, would attack our feet and attack us at night if he had the chance. Over time and being neutered he's gotten better in some ways but is still an aggressive, big and tough cat. He used to go outside and disappear for days at a time when we first got him, but he'd keep coming back, even after we moved with him to new rentals locally a few times. Now he'll only go out for a few hours or a day at most, but he still begs to go out, tries to sneak out, and will even start attacking us more often if we refuse to let him out for a few days.

This cat in some ways good and maybe even trainable - extremely food motivated, will walk on a leash, never had any problems using a litter box, minimal scratching of furniture. At the same time, he can be a monster, half-killing chipmunks and leaving dead mice at our door regularly. We've tried collars and even two harnesses and he escaped all of them within days, though we do have him RFID chipped (unless he got rid of that too!)

I've seen my cat with 2 sparrows he's brought home dead in the past, he does 'cat chattering' when watching birds out the window, and I saw him try to climb into a bush to catch a bird once which he probably would've succeeded had I not chased him away. He's also killed and maimed many other animals not just birds.

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    energetic young cat that hunts as cats do =/= feral cat. A feral cat is a legitimately wild animal, and can no more be picked up or handled than a bobcat, lynx, etc. Your cat's just being a prey-driven young male cat with loose boundaries, he's not feral or "semi-feral" at all. – Allison C Apr 10 at 17:53
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    Make sure that you have lots of toys and high places in your house for your cat to play with and climb on. This will be especially important if you decide to make him an indoors-only cat. – Kevin Apr 10 at 22:14
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    Regardless of the definition of "feral", "domesticated", or "semi-domesticated", allowing your pet cat to wander unsupervised into property that you don't own is not only irresponsible to the environment, but also plain rude. I really don't see how being next to a "bird sanctuary" makes that more true. If you want to help wildlife conservation efforts, you'd completely remove the cat from the wild, as they are an extremely invasive species. If you own a cat, anything less than that is irresponsible and a negative effort to ecosystem health. – Clay07g Apr 12 at 5:29
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    @Clay07g I understand and agree, thus I'm asking this question of what I can do to balance removing the cat from the wild vs. the cat's own quality of life. As an extreme obvious example, I wouldn't euthanize it just because it likes hunting mice. I've had him neutered to prevent the invasive spread of cats, and I'll use suggestions here to help him have a healthy & happy life without damaging ecosystems. – cr0 Apr 12 at 14:18
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    Ecosystems are almost never that simple; e.g. reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone increased songbird populations through a whole cascade of events. Also you can find indigenous feline predators almost everywhere and we still have birds. Here's a not unrealistic possibility for your situation: A bit of semi-natural predation kills of the most unfit or sick birds, increasing the population's health by releasing resources like food and nesting places to the more fit ones. Instead of basing your decision on, well, a wild guess really, you should contact the sanctuary! – Raphael Schmitz Apr 13 at 9:34
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Whatever your general opinions on free-roaming cats may be, allowing your cat to hunt in a bird sanctuary definitely sounds like a highly irresponsible thing to do.

If you'd rather not lock your cat entirely indoors, one option to consider would be to build a secure outdoor enclosure for your cat. Unlike Allison C, I wouldn't rely on just a fence, no matter how "cat-proofed", because cats are really, really good at finding ways over, under or through fences.

What does work though, in my experience, is simply surrounding a suitable space on all sides with a durable net or wire mesh, and making sure there are no holes large enough for a cat to get through. The details will vary depending on what your new house or apartment is like, but it could be as simple as surrounding a balcony / terrace / patio / veranda or any similar "semi-outdoor" area with cat-proof net or mesh.

For a practical example, here's one of my parents' cats watching the local wildlife from behind a temporary net set up to close off their new ground floor apartment's patio:

Photo of a cat in an enclosed patio behind a net

and here are both of them in winter (one braving the cold outside, one safe and warm inside behind the window), showing the final (semi-)permanent enclosure we built out of chicken wire:

Photo of two cats in winter with a patio enclosed with chicken wire

The new structure extends a few meters into the back yard, so that there's room for a small garden inside, including some vines to climb and partly cover the wire fence (not yet visible in these photos). It consists of just a few wooden posts and beams that attach to the existing partition walls between the neighboring patios and support a chicken wire fence between them, with the old nylon net now serving as a roof over it (because cats can climb, you know) and the chicken wire extending some distance underground (because they can dig too — not that either of these two have ever tried).

We even built a simple lockable gate (half visible on the right side of the second photo) into the fence so that we can still get to the outside (not that there's much there, except some trees and neighbors' back yards) without having to walk around the whole building.

The important thing to remember (for your peace of mind, and the safety of any birds living nearby) is that cats can squeeze their head through surprisingly small holes if they're sufficiently motivated, e.g. by tasty birds waiting just outside — and if the head gets through, the rest of the cat will most likely follow. (For evidence, see e.g. any of these YouTube videos.) But there are limits, and something like a 1 inch / 2.5 cm mesh size is definitely too small for any adult cat to possibly get through. Meanwhile, it's still large enough that any small birds or rodents that may unwisely enter the enclosure can also easily get out.


Ps. I wrote most of this answer before noticing the How to let an indoor cat have some outdoors time safely? thread, which also has some pictures of outdoor cat enclosures. I figured I'd post this anyway, because it's still a valid answer and shows a somewhat different style of enclosure.

  • Marking this correct as it's 1) highest voted and 2) most specific in how to effectively keep the cat from killing birds. Fences, collars, honestly this cat is so tough and crafty I think he'll escape those. But a full enclosure, combining fencing with an overhead top, seems like the way to go. Along with, as you and others said, just trying to keep him indoors more and plenty entertained there. – cr0 Apr 12 at 20:11
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The best situation for any domestic cat is to live indoors; it would have been an easier transition when he was younger, but it can still be done, if you're willing to endure a period of "misery" for both yourselves and for him as you retrain him. A new location may very well aid in this reconditioning.

If you're neither willing nor able to retrain him as an indoor-only cat, then your next best bet is to secure your backyard and restrict him only to this area. This should include:

  • High fences -- too high to jump over.
  • Low fences -- cats can squeeze into some small spaces, so you'll need to ensure there is no ground clearance; ideally, you should bury a section of the fencing to guarantee the cat can't slip underneath.
  • Dense fences -- Again, cats can squeeze into small spaces, so you'll need to eliminate any potential spaces in the fence where it could slip loose.
  • "Cat proofing" at the top of the fence. This is done by stringing the top with a core surrounded by a free-spinning piece of wide PVC pipe. The pipe should overhand both sides of the fence (you can also add a slanted section of fencing below it, that likewise slants toward your yard). If the fence is too wide for a reasonable sized length of pipe, use two, one angled toward each side of the fence. The goal is to make it impossible for the cat to get a grip anywhere; the pipe will spin if it tries to grip it, and if positioned right, the roller will also prevent the cat from reaching around or under to grab the fence behind it. Keeping the roller toward the outside will prevent nosy climbing wildlife from entering your yard and becoming trapped, which could be a hazard to either them or to your cat, depending on the wildlife.
  • Tree trimming -- Even with a high, low, dense, cat-proofed fence, the cat will still be able to escape if you have a tree with branches reaching over it that he can use to evade all these defenses. Get branches trimmed, or consider adding some cat-proofing to prevent climbing the trunks.

You'll want to spend some time outside "thinking like a cat" as well. Imagine yourself as the cat that wants to get on the other side of your fence, and do your best to hunt down any places you might have overlooked where he could sneak out.

As a bonus, a well cat-proofed fence will also help keep a good amount of wildlife out, too, so while he may have less to hunt, you'll also find fewer gifts from him.

An additional note: A harness is not meant for long-term wear on a cat, and the vast majority of cats hate wearing them. Most cats also don't care much for collars, though can be accustomed to them with time. Cats aren't small dogs, and don't naturally walk on leashes; they're solitary ambush predators, not pack hunters who follow the lead of other members of their pack (ie. human owners). He's certainly not a wild animal from your description, just high energy. A truly feral (or even semi-feral) cat is a wild animal that can't be handled. Your cat's just high energy and could probably stand to have more toys and places to climb in the house.

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    "The best situation for any domestic cat is to live indoors" Did you ask them? Or just decided what is good for them? – TMS Apr 11 at 11:01
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    You do wright long paragraphs but don't seem to now a lot about cats. I had cats from early childhood on and continue to have them as an adult and every cat I owned loved to go outside. Actually all cats I've ever known loved to go outside and locking a cat in an apartment/house for me is animal abuse. Cats don't like to walk on leaches but they do need a lot of exercise/fresh air to stay healthy and happy. – GittingGud Apr 11 at 11:24
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    @TMS if I asked a child if they'd rather have broccoli or a happy meal, they'd choose the happy meal. That doesn't make it better for them than the broccoli. Indoor cats have longer, healthier lives. Outdoor cats are far more likely to have shorter lives with violent ends. – Allison C Apr 11 at 11:47
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    @NickC How is it bizarre? Why do native bird species have to suffer? Why not refrain from buying a cat if you think reasonable measures against another bird species dying out is animal cruelty? You have the option to not buy a cat, whereas local bird species have no options when you introduce a predator with no natural enemies and irrational killing urges. – Chavez Apr 11 at 15:50
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    @NickC I like how you label the introduction of predators without natural enemies yet with practically unlimited (medical) support of the dominant species natural, but methods to limit the (documented!) damage to biodiversity are animal cruelty. Not to mention that you still have a choice of not buying a cat or not moving to said location. – Chavez Apr 12 at 10:43
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Most locations have leash laws that apply to all domestic animals, in most areas they are only enforced on dogs. In an area with a bird sanctuary, it may very well be applied to cats as well.

The risks of moving you cat near a bird sanctuary, may not be just to the local birds.

  • Check the local laws and their enforcement, fines and loss of your cat are possible.

  • Read our post on keeping cats contained

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    IMO the onus is on the sanctuary. The law may say otherwise though, and that would be my concern, +1 – Mazura Apr 11 at 17:10
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    @Mazura if you are saying that the sanctuary is responsible for protecting their birds from neighborhood cats on the property belonging to the sanctuary, then extending that argument would require the parents protect their children from neighborhood dogs on the parent childs property. In most cases the law is going to favor the trespasser. sanctuary bird on your property, cats rights prevail. Cat on sanctuary property, birds rights prevail – James Jenkins Apr 12 at 14:52
  • The only sanctuary I'm familiar with is the one in Chicago that's completely surrounded by a chain-link fence. My concern is exactly like 'neighborhood dogs' : nuisances that are put to sleep if deemed necessary, in accordance to law. IDC about the birds; that's the circle of life (many a night I've been awoken to the sound of avian bones crunching. The only dead gifts I get are rats)... I care about someone having legal authority to put my animal down. – Mazura Apr 13 at 1:08
  • @Mazura Introducing a predator and letting it wreak havoc on animal populations is hardly "the circle of life". For one, you underestimate the amount of killing your cat is responsible for (on average they bring home less than a tenth of victims), and second, your definition of 'natural' is severely warped. – Chavez Apr 13 at 6:39
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    @Mazura No you cannot, because the sanctuary is a preservation effort, just like many others around the globe. They are necessary because ignorant pet owners deem it business as usual and cat ownership has been embedded in culture. It is not natural to have predators roam without natural enemies. Strictly speaking, in nearly all environments cats apply to the definition of invasive species. – Chavez Apr 16 at 7:05
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Get a collar with a bell.

I'm going to say that the best and easiest way to solve this problem is to get a collar and put a small bell on it. The bell will provide enough warning that the vast majority of birds will have enough warning to escape.

Yes, you say that you have difficulty keeping a collar on your cat. I admit I don't quite understand this -- it's not like cats can remove their own collars. Maybe you aren't putting the collar on tight enough? Don't strangle your cat, but make it tight enough that it doesn't slip over the head easily or at all. I like using a breakaway collar that the cat can get out of in an emergency but put it on tightly enough that an emergency is unlikely to arise.

If the issue is that your cat doesn't like the collar and claws at it or whatever, that's a temporary thing. After a few weeks, your cat will probably be fine with it. If the issue is that you're using a breakaway collar and the collar keeps breaking away, just accept that you'll need to buy a replacement collar every few months or so. You mention that a collar only lasts a few days but I suspect that was either a statistical aberration, the collar was improperly attached, or the breakaway device unlatched too easily. Maybe try a different brand.

A bell and collar is effective and not that big of an expense -- certainly small compared to building a massive fence around your yard or moving elsewhere or other options apparently under consideration.

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    Speaking about this with vets it seems not that unusual for a cat to be able to break free from these things. We don't know how it happens, but I know that we've put different style collars on the cat and after a trip or two outside he comes back without it on. Same with two different types of harnesses, which really baffles me. I can understand slipping a collar off or breaking it somehow, but a harness?! Anyway, it is worth trying more, but I don't think this alone will reliably resolve the issue. – cr0 Apr 11 at 2:40
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    See the duplicate questions at How can I make my cat less lethal? bell and collar have both safety and effective issues – James Jenkins Apr 11 at 8:58
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    Cats can definitely remove their own collars, and a cat collar should always be a breakaway one to avoid strangulation. Cats can also get out of most harnesses, but they're not designed to break away and letting a cat loose with a harness is very dangerous for the cat. – Allison C Apr 11 at 11:51
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    Our female cat could get out of a collar in about 10 minutes. We gave up trying very quickly... – Nick C Apr 11 at 15:28
  • Just as a quick aside, as popular as the bell collars are they do more to alarm rodents... I think a study actually found birds to be better warned by bright rainbow jester collars... – Ana Lilian Noriega Apr 12 at 18:12
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I would encourage you to keep trying things, even if they don't seem to work or have not worked in the past.

As others have suggested, try various things to make indoors more appealing, so he has less of an urge to venture outdoors.

Play with him. A lot. No, even more than that. Give him an outlet for all that energy.

If he's really food motivated, it should be possible to train him to accept a collar eventually - just keep at it! And once you do, the right collar can really help out Team Bird. That article cites a small study where a brightly colored collar appeared to reduce Team Cat's kill count by 54%, and the current website for a company that sells such collars cites a study that claims 87%.

Even an 87% reduction is still only a reduction, and not an elimination, however. The only surefire method to completely prevent bird killings by your cat appears to be keeping him indoors.

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    The 87% figure seems to be sourced to sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989415000050. Anyway, I'll certainly buy 54%, and I suppose 87% just might be plausible with a really high-visibility collar. But note that even a 90% reduction in lethality still just means that the cat needs to try again 10 times on average before catching their feathery snack. It's a lot better than nothing, but I still wouldn't want to let even a 10% effective cat loose in a bird sanctuary. Especially since even failed hunting attempts can still disturb the birds. – Ilmari Karonen Apr 11 at 12:35
  • @Ilmari Thank you, edited to note that. – ap55 Apr 11 at 19:31
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I see three possible options:

  • Attempt to enclose the garden somehow so that he doesn't have free reign in the bird sanctuary. You'd need pretty tall fences though...

  • Choose a different location.

  • Accept that he is, by nature, a hunter. You don't mention exactly how many years you've had him (and therefore, how old he is), but he'll get lazier as he gets older and won't bother going hunting when he knows his humans will do it for him...

  • Added age, we've had him for about 3 years. Those do seem like the options. He has gotten more docile over the years but he's also been in a more urban environment, so we worry all the new wildlife will set him off on a newfound sense of predation – cr0 Apr 10 at 15:46
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    So he's about 4 years old - right in his prime as a hunter! Ours are about 9, and the male only brought home 3 prey last summer - our female is already too lazy to hunt at all! – Nick C Apr 10 at 15:49
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    I agree with the third point. besides he's neutered already. On the long run he wont be causing any harm. Like mating with other cats and have kittens. – Hani Gotc Apr 10 at 16:53
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    even if cats get less acctive as they get older they do not stop hunting,i have had several 18 years old cats that did hunt a lot. – trond hansen Apr 11 at 14:51
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I do disagree with most answers posted so far, because:

Cats are natural predators who should have lot of physical exercise.

Locking a cat into an apartment/house in my opinion is animal abuse, especially if the cat was/is used to be a free roaming cat most of it's life. Cats aren't the smartest beings but imagine being locked into the same few sq. meters for the rest of your life. That's torture.

I would try different types of collars, especially ones with flashy colors. But be sure that he does not choke himself while trying to get rid of it.

Try feeding him more because the amount a cat hunts and/or how far away from it's sleeping spot a cat walks is directly correlated to how much food they have. Nevertheless cats do hunt for fun so that will reduce but not stop cats from killing birds.

I would just see how many birds your cat brings and if he brings so many that you think it is a endangering a whole ecosystem then I would take action. A single cat is unlikely to kill a sufficient amount of birds that the purpose of a bird sanctuary isn't fulfilled anymore.

Additionally I do want to add, nevertheless I think cats should roam freely, that you do check whether it is even legal for you to have your cat outside if it's a proper nature-sanctuary because dogs are usually not allowed to walk freely in those areas.

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    "He will probably not kill as much if you up the difficulty level" is hardly a worthy answer, let alone a serious one. Cats are known to be a major problem to birds, killing somewhere between 1.4 to 3.7 billion of them annually. – Chavez Apr 11 at 14:17
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    It's quite amazing to see the mental gymnastics performed here to not only convince oneself that cats are a natural part of the ecosystem, but also that it justifies disrupting deliberate conservation efforts. It's like, not only are you content with deliberately hurting the environment, but you also want to hamper other peoples' efforts to improve it. – Clay07g Apr 12 at 5:42
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    "... if he brings in so many that you think it is endangering a whole ecosystem then I would take action". Interesting. Well, I saw this one guy dumping some trash over the side of the road, but I guess since it wasn't enough to pollute the entire ocean, it's fine. – Clay07g Apr 12 at 5:47

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