Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cats and Songbirds in the Garden Together?

I recently stumbled across this bird safe-feeding station. At least that's what it could be with a little imagination:

A possible bird safe-feeding station discovered in Sweden

I was already aware of outdoor cat cages designed to keep cats safe and far away from bird feeding areas--an important issue given the declining songbird population. But I had never thought of erecting a cage around the bird feeders to keep cats and other critters out (or to hinder them at least). Here's a close-up:
Improvements needed, to be sure; this is too small and too low, but still...
There are many possible variations on this theme. I envision this one being much taller and wider. You'd have to plan it carefully so a cat wouldn't have anywhere to hide. Ground feeders like juncos and cardinals might then safely peck at seed dropped from above.

Though this works pretty well too:

Some wicked cats, happy and safe...with non-poisonous astilbe and nasturtiums

As with chain-link fences, I can imagine these metal structures test the aesthetic tolerance of many gardeners. I can almost hear someone whispering, "Oh dear...I wouldn't want that in my garden!" But maybe when the health of the environment is at stake, not to mention the well-being of pets, just maybe these structures should be seen in a different light. Like chain-link fences, these cages might be just plain useful, and they can be thoughtfully planted up too. I also like the idea of two kinds of cages because building them is something both cat and bird lovers can do, humanely, right now in their own back yards. No need to kidnap the neighbor's evil bird-killing cat.

Another thing you can do right now is support TNR or 'trap-neuter-return' of feral cats. TNR started in my neighborhood around the University of Chicago in 2008 (see Hyde Park Cats). Since then, the number of stray/feral roaming cats in my urban alley has dropped from about 20 a year to about 1 a year. Good thing, because some of the more lavish gardens here attract nearly two dozen different kinds of birds, not just sparrows.

For more info on the pictured cat cage (which could also be used for bird feeders) and photos of other peoples' elaborate set-ups go to: .

For info on non-poisonous plants to use around a cat cage, see the ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants .

For smaller, cheaper, less permanent outdoor cat cage options go to this page at Drs. Foster and Smith.

A few links related to the debate on free roaming cats (house cats or ferals) and their effect on the songbird population:

*Audubon Magazine's notes on songbird cages endorsed
*Alley Cat Allies' Response to Smithsonian's Report on TNR (trap-neuter-return of feral cats)
*The Daily Show's not terribly funny spoof on Alley Cat Allies vs. American Bird Conservancy
*A sane response to arguments against TNR by Steve Dale at Chicago Now, which points out that light and noise pollution and habitat loss caused by humans are far more destructive to birds than cats
*NYTimes blog on climate change as threat to bird populations
*War on Cats and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom...and how birds also die by flying into buildings


  1. I think that enclosure is to keep out squirrels, who will typically empty a feeder before the birds have a crack at it. (?)

  2. Yes, it could be. But if you look closely, the top is open...My squirrels would have a good laugh at that! Just what exactly the gardener was trying to do remains a mystery to me. But I understand the basic impulse!

  3. Oh! I thought it was entirely enclosed! No, scratch the squirrel idea. Now I'm really stumped.