20 May 2023

I don't want your cat to kill birds in my yard

| Chris Roe
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Two-thirds of the nation’s pet cats continue to slaughter native birds. What are the options to keep them contained? Photo: File.

We need to have another conversation about cats.

I arrived home from work the other afternoon to find a puff of little feathers scattered on my back lawn.

Worried for my little brood of bantams, I quickly scanned the yard and was hit with a wave of dread when I saw a second pile of larger black feathers a little further away.

Having suffered a pretty traumatic fox attack (a murderous ‘foxpocalypse’) a couple of years ago, I approached the henhouse with trepidation and was already thinking through a plan to shield the kids from the gruesome scene I expected to see.

But when I peered into the dark of their little laying box, I was greatly relieved to find all three of our girls present and accounted for and huddled in a corner.

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Thankful that I would not be burying bodies in the dark this time, I proceeded to conduct a closer examination of the avian remains on my lawn.

It turns out it was Brian, the cheeky little blackbird who lived in our crepe myrtle and occasionally hopped in through the sliding door to eat the dog’s food.

Never again would he perch on our pot plants or poop on the kids’ homework. All that remained were a few sad black feathers.

There’s only one explanation for a daytime assassination like this: cat!

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We do not own a cat but have often seen a furtive feline skulking through our yard.

I’m not happy about it and if I’m ever missing a chook, we’ll see about those fabled nine lives!

According to a 2019 study, it’s estimated that every domestic cat in Australia kills 75 native birds each year.

In total, pet cats kill 340 million native animals a year and this week, poor old Brian joined the list.

Cat in run

Cat-proofed gardens, cat runs and ‘catios’ have proved effective in containing our feline friends. Photo: File.

Last year, Wagga’s Deputy Mayor Jenny McKinnon brought a notice of motion, calling on the State Government to empower local councils to enforce curfews.

Nine months on, she says their hands remain tied.

“There is almost nothing we can do at a local government level to enforce anything,” she said with obvious frustration.

“Even if we were to issue a fine to someone who didn’t restrain their cat, we have no footing in law to enforce that fine under the Companion Animals Act.

“When the answer came back to my notice of motion, it was basically that the State Government has got a couple of trials underway in different parts of the state where they are doing more severe containment and we’re waiting on the results of those trials.”

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Cr McKinnon added that she was pleased to see that at this month’s annual CWA conference, a resolution was put forward calling for a mandatory statewide pet cat curfew and for empowering all NSW councils to enforce containment.

“The CWA ladies are very upset about it, and I’m pleased as punch because they’ll probably make very powerful advocates,” said Cr McKinnon.

Around a third of all cat owners in Australia keep their cats contained, many opting to build netted cat runs or ‘catios’, and containment is mandated in parts of the ACT.

Cat in ruff

While this puss looks far from pleased with his new ‘Birdsbesafe’ collar, ruffs have proved effective in reducing predation. Photo: Birdsbesafe.

My new favourite anti-predation device is the ‘cat-ruff’, a giant frilly collar that apparently makes it hard for felines to sneak up on their prey and has the added bonus of making them look like 17th-century European dandies. Win-win!

But until the State Government’s trials are complete and councils are given the power to protect the native birds we share our yards with, please, consider locking up your cat. Or at least dress him up as a clown before setting him loose.

How many more Brians do we have to lose before something is done?

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