When You Can't Keep Cats Out of Your Yard

Tougher Methods to Keep Cats Away

Prowling Outdoor Cat

Hans Pama/ Flickr

Backyard birders try many tricks to keep outdoor pet cats, feral cats and strays away from their bird feeders and out of their yards entirely, from prickly landscaping to removing pet food to motion-activated lights and sprinklers, but cats may still visit. There are further steps that can be taken when cats really become a problem that will allow backyard birders to nurture a safe space for birds to enjoy without cats intruding.

Why Cats Wander

Cats are naturally nomadic and even a pampered pet may prowl through a relatively large area. This can be a problem for backyard birders, since different cats may venture into bird-friendly areas from several directions. But why do cats wander so widely?

  • Curiosity: Cats are intelligent and curious, and may wander to new areas when a particular sight, sound or smell catches their attention.
  • Mating: When the mating urge strikes, cats may travel far and wide to find the strongest, healthiest, most suitable partner.
  • Fear: If cats are spooked, scared or chased, they may run quite a distance into an area where they feel more secure.
  • Territory: What may seem to be random wandering is actually a cat patrolling the territory it claims as its own. Many cats have regular routes they will follow.

Regardless of why a cat may pass through a birder's yard, their presence will disturb backyard birds, and repeated visits can be frustrating to birders who are trying to keep cats away.


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What You Can Do to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard

When unwelcome cats appear in the backyard – whether they are spotted directly or birders discover their presence through tracks in the snow, dug up flowerbeds or other evidence – it can be difficult to completely discourage them. While there are different ways to discourage feral cats or plan landscaping to keep cats away, when feline visitors are too persistent, there are other steps birders might want to take.

  • Speak to Neighbors
    Most cats do not travel far from their comfortable homes, and it is likely that visiting cats are actually neighbors' pets. While it is not pleasant to bring up an uncomfortable topic, birders can politely let neighbors know the cats are trespassing and the trouble they may be causing. Gently suggesting the cat should wear a bell or a bright collar to help birds spot the predator can help, and will let neighbors' know that their pets intrusions are less than friendly.
  • Speak to Authorities
    Many communities have laws forbidding pets from being allowed to wander freely outside the boundaries of the pet owner's property. While such laws are rarely enforced in any strict manner, speaking with the proper authorities can help birders discover what measures might be able to be taken, or what actions they can legally take to keep a wandering cat out of their yard. For birders who live in regulated communities with homeowner associations or similar organizations, both city laws and association restrictions may address untended pets.
  • Change Tactics
    While some cats respond well to deterrent techniques, a new cat in the neighborhood may be less sensitive to the same tactics, and in time, any cat may learn how to avoid deterrents without completely avoiding the yard. By regularly changing techniques to keep cats away, the animals will not have time to get used to the same methods and are more likely to away from an unwelcoming yard.
  • Double-Check Cat-Proofing
    Many backyard birders take at least some steps to keep cats from entering their yard or finding food or shelter in the yard, but in time any cat-proofing can wear out. Backyard birders should stay vigilant against ways cats could be getting into the yard or making use of the property, such as regularly checking fences for gaps or holes cats can get through, investigating for invasive catnip or other plants cats like and ensuring there are no open trash bins or other food sources cats might use.
  • Set Humane Traps
    When cats just won't stay away despite conscientious attempts to discourage them, it may be time to investigate humane traps to catch unwelcome guests. Traps should be positioned in areas where cats are frequently seen, and could be baited with food or water to encourage cats to investigate. Any cats that are captured should be turned in to local animal control officials or shelters so the cats can be properly checked for any microchips or identifying marks, and put up for adoption if possible.

Even when birders may be trying to get rid of cats, they should not lose their focus on birds. Providing safe shelter, using feeder baffles, adjusting bird feeder placement and taking other steps to protect backyard birds from cats can help minimize the threats that any wandering cats may pose.

What Not to Do

No matter how irritating a cat may be, backyard birders should never take actions that will deliberately harm the cats. No poisons, lethal traps or other harsh means should be used, not only because these steps can be cruel to cats and may be illegal, but also because other wildlife could be harmed, including birds. Similarly, any captured cats should not be released in distant locations only to become another birder's problem.

While it can be frustrating to have unwelcome cats wandering in the yard, there are always more steps that backyard birders can take to eliminate feline interlopers and keep backyard birds safe.