Colorful Collars Can Help Reduce the Number of Birds Killed by Domestic Cats

cat watching bird

That four-legged furry animal you swear to love to bits may shower you with kisses, but it is a predator when it comes to birds. Most cat owners can attest to having received “gifts” of dead birds from their pets but never imagine the impact such kills have on the bird population. For decades, it has been argued that cats are to blame for the rapid decline in the bird population, and one solution has been around for quite some time. It is said that colorful collars can help reduce the number of birds killed by domestic cats, but more research needs to be done. Here’s more regarding the topic.

The Problem of Domestic Cats

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Pete Marra, the author of “Cat Wars,” is a bird lover, but he knows their adverse impacts. He acknowledges that birds are critical to the life cycle of various species since they pollinate flowers, control insects, carry seeds from one place to another, and so much more. He even considered adopting a cat despite being mildly allergic. Still, he cannot turn a blind eye to the damage these felines cause. From his research as a wildlife ecologist, Marra found out that outdoor cats are the number one human-influenced cause of dead birds, making it clear that he does not see a problem with lap cats. With this in mind, he cites the story of Tibbles, a cat that traveled to an island south of New Zealand with her owner and killed so many Stephen Island wrens that she caused their extinction. The Royal Society of The Protection of Birds published that in the UK, cats catch up to 27 million birds per year. This was the number known because the cats brought the birds back home; therefore, those killed and not taken home could mean the number is much higher. In the US, cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds annually, and the blame fell on feral cats, but domestic cats also had a part to play where they are not kept as indoor cats. The funny thing is that despite all these opinions about domestic cats and their impacts on birds, even animal experts cannot confine their pet cats. Some liken it to keeping a race car in the garage.

The Solution in Colorful Collars

Professor Ken Otter, the chairperson of the ecosystem science and management department at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), remarked that colorful collars stick out like a sore thumb when worn by domestic cats. In 2019, Otter had asked owners to keep an updated log of when their cats brought home dead birds. He also requested the cat owners to put a colorful collar on their cats and alternate with a week of the cats not wearing the collar to see if there would be a difference in the number of birds brought home. The idea is that birds have excellent color vision, and cats would not camouflage, enabling birds to be safe from predators. As for the bells, cats are stealth walkers and can suppress the ringing. He also argued that since rodents have poor color vision, wearing bright-colored collars would facilitate bird population protection while still allowing cats to catch rodents. Unfortunately, his research on how the colorful collar impacted bird killings by domesticated cats had to be halted when the COVID-19 pandemic struck as cats were feared to be vectors of the virus. The research is not conclusive, but he is adamant it is essential because most scientists have concentrated on the wildlife and neglected cats and dogs. Yet, he is worried that cats in Canada kill between 150 million to 300 million birds annually.

Do Colorful Collars Work?

The idea of a colorful collar did not originate from Otter; it came from Nancy Brennan, an avid bird watcher who owned a cat named George. George, an indoor and outdoor cat kept bringing “gifts” of dead birds to Brennan and her husband. According to The Atlantic, Brennan had enough in 2008 when George tried pulling in a bird almost the size of a chicken into the house. The bells she had tried putting on George were useless, so she recalled an article she had read that birds have excellent color vision. She put her sewing skills to use, made a brightly colored collar, put it on George, and let him out. George did not bring home a bird for the next few days, and the trend continued during spring and summer.

Given the success of her experiment, Brennan began working on a prototype for a collar, Birdbesafe. The sales were steady, but the scientific evidence was still scanty. In 2013, Susan Willson, a bird biologist, also wanted to stop Gorilla from giving Willson dead birds as presents. She stumbled upon Brennan’s website and bought a collar to see if it worked. She was intrigued and asked Brennan if they could experiment. Just like Otter, Willson’s interest was to see if cats with regular collars and those with bright colored collars had a different number of bird killings. The experiment revealed that Birdbesafe collars helped reduce the number of bird killings by 3.4 times, and she published her study in the Global Ecology and Conservation. Still, as much as Otter, Willson, and Brennan are convinced that the brightly colored collars work, getting rid of the cats is the ideal solution in some other countries. However, this usually applies to feral cats. New Zealand started a Predator Free New Zealand project that aims to eliminate all invasive mammals by 2050, and feral cats are included in the to-do-away-with list. For cat owners who want to help save the bird population, red and rainbow collars are the most effective in reducing bird kills.

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