Aren't cat owners responsible for all the wild birds their pets kill?

If cat-lovers really care about animals they should face up to what their pets do

High drama in our suburban garden. A long-tailed tit has nested in a shrub, and there is a great tit with its brood in one of the nesting boxes.

We are more excited about the long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, because it is slightly rarer and more spectacular. It has a round little body with rose-pink feathers and eyes like shiny peppercorns. In flight, it bounces in the air, its long, narrow tail making it look like a flying soup spoon.

My wife Katherine sits in the shed and watches it through the window. “Confiding but restless,” the bird book says, meaning that it darts around but is trusting and will come close to humans.

Long-tailed tits build their nests in the forks of branches, holding them together with spiders’ webs, ingeniously using bark and lichen to provide camouflage – and so it has been with our specimen.

The adults behave skittishly, flitting back and forth around the nest as if seeking out predators. Or perhaps now they are trying to tease out the fledglings, assuming they are nearly ready to flee the nest.

They have good reason to be nervous, because a predator lies in wait. It’s a great big black cat that we have spotted, on occasion, stalking the birds from the roof of the shed. This sends them into paroxysms of chirruping panic. Katherine shooed the cat away, but who knows whether it will come back while we’re out, to drag the poor chicks from their carefully constructed but worryingly vulnerable nest and kill them?

I notice that often cat-lovers think of themselves as lovers of animals. But how? Do they wipe from their minds what their cats do when they’re prowling outside?


What cats do, as everyone knows but some prefer not to think about, is kill wild birds – millions every year, according to the RSPB.

Here are these two birds bringing up their families in our garden, feeding their bleating chicks, and along comes the domestic cat, a ruthless hunter introduced by humans to mess up the natural order of things.

“Belling the cat” (that is, hanging a bell around the animal’s neck, as in Aesop’s fable) ought to be the minimum cat owners do.

At least that would warn birds of their presence. I would go further – cat owners should stop their pets reproducing indiscriminately. It would also be better if cats were kept indoors at night.

If you own a cat, what it gets up to it is your responsibility. If your pet goes out and slaughters millions of birds and chicks, it is your business.

Most cat-lovers presumably accept this, but do not mind what their pets do. They may think there are enough birds, or if they do have qualms then their love of their pet over-rides them. A friend told me yesterday with a shrug that she has no birds in her garden. Of course she doesn’t: she has a cat.

Another told me how one day she had rejoiced to see that a wren had made its home outside her kitchen window – only for her cat to drop the tiny bird’s corpse through the cat flap.

I imagine that to its owner the big black cat is a cuddly, adored companion; but to our children, seeing it menacing the fledglings, it is the enemy.

They are fervently hoping that the long-tailed chicks in their house of bark and spiders’ webs will escape the attentions of Felix for long enough to fly away.

 Originally published in The Daily Telegraph