7 Ways to Keep Cats Away From Bird Feeders

Many of us love our cats, but if you also love birds, you need to protect them from their feline predators.

Cats are known to be very curious creatures. If you install a new bird feeder, there is a high chance your cat will be curious to know what it is, and it’s likely to investigate it.

And cats are also natural predators of birds, so that puts your backyard wild birds at risk.

In this article, we have some useful suggestions on what you need to do to keep cats away from your bird feeders, and also some tips on what not to do when you are protecting birds.

Cats Are the Number-One Threat to Birdlife in North America

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute conducted a study of just how much North American wildlife is killed by outdoor cats.

Exact measurements aren’t possible, but the two wildlife conservation organizations estimate that cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion wild birds and between 6.3 and 22.3 billion small mammals (mice, rats, snakes, and squirrels) every year.

Pet cats aren’t responsible for the majority of birds that are killed by cats.

About 69 percent of birds and about 89 percent of other small animals killed by cats were hunted down by “un-owned” cats.

These are cats that are completely feral, as well as stray cats that only visit humans to seek food, cats in colonies in parks and public places, and barn and farm cats.

The largest number of wildlife deaths are caused by cats from Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) colonies intended as a kindness to stray cats—with devastating effects on birds and small animals.

It’s only natural for cats to hunt for food. There is no way to change a cat’s neurological makeup, so it suppresses in natural instincts and stops being a hunter.

But it is possible to keep cats and birds and other animals separated so we can enjoy them all.

How to Keep Cats Away from the Bird Feeder?

Now let’s take a look at seven ways to protect backyard birds from pet and stray cats.

Choose the Right Place to Put Your Bird Feeder

Where you hang your bird feeder is the most important consideration in keeping birds safe from your feline friends.

Bird feeders are more likely to be cat-proof when they are placed in an open area. This placement deprives cats of the cover they need to stalk and take birds by surprise.

Of course, placing a feeder in an open area also exposes birds to overhead predators, such as owls, buzzards, hawks, and other birds of prey.

Choose a feeder that has a covered canopy to give birds protection from above while they are feeding.

Or put up a cage feeder that has an opening large enough for songbirds and other desirable bird species to enter, but too small for a predator bird like an owl or a hawk.

You don’t have to place your bird feeder on a tall pole or a pedestal in the middle of your lawn.

You can also hang it from a sturdy tree limb. Just be sure that the limb is at least 10 feet off the ground, so you can place the feeder about 5 feet off the ground.

And add a baffle on top, so cats and squirrels can’t join the birds you want to feed.

Some ground-feeding birds, like sparrows, quail, doves, and chickens, feed on the ground and can be an easier target for the cat.

Instead of spreading food on the ground, spread it on a raised platform that forces a cat to jump up to attack, giving birds a fraction of a second to make their escape.

Use Citrus Oil as a Cat Repellent

Cats have a well-developed sense of smell. And you can use this to create some smell-repellant that can keep cats away from your bird feeders.

Humans usually love a lemony scent, but cats are turned off by the smell of citrus. That’s actually a good thing for the cat. 

Scientists have confirmed that the essential oil in citrus peels is toxic to cats, and cats don’t need to consume vitamin C for a simple reason: Their bodies make their own vitamin C.

Of course, birds shouldn’t consume citrus oil, either. Rub citrus oil on the bottom of your feeder about once a week.

Reapply citrus oil every time it rains. Birds won’t mind the smell, but the cat will stay away from the bird feeder.

What about other known feline repellents?

  • Cats hate the smell of vinegar, but putting it on the ground underneath your bird feeder will kill the grass.
  • Wildcat urine is an effective cat repellent, but it also repels people. It smells bad. Also, you need to put out more every time it rains.

So, what else works?

Cats don’t like the odors of some aromatic plants such as Coleus canina, lavender, marigolds, rue, and lemon thyme.

Include these plants throughout your landscape to keep stray cats away.

Put Spikes on the Ground Beneath Your Bird Feeder

Cats like to lie in wait underneath bird feeders, waiting for a weak bird to have trouble taking off, or for a baby bird to have trouble flying away.

But they don’t like to lie down on metal spikes.

Rolls of metal spikes are available online and in most home and garden stores.

Don’t like spikes? Place your bird feeder over plants that have thorns or needles. A bird feeder directly over a bed of cacti or roses won’t get a lot of attention from stray cats.

You could also set out spikes around a ground-level feeding area, or just throw food out between the spikes.

Birds don’t need to touch the spikes to feed on the food you leave on the ground.

Install Sprinklers With Ground-level Motion Detectors

We all know that cats don’t like getting sprayed from a water bottle. They like getting sprayed with lawn motion-activated sprinklers even less.

Nearly every cat hates water. Even those that don’t will be surprised by a sudden drenching. Water won’t harm cats, but it will cause them to stay away.

The downside to this solution for bird predation is that motion detector water systems are expensive to set up, and they rely on the availability of water every day.

City and country water restrictions may make their use impossible. Ideally, you should activate sprinklers with motion detectors only when you know birds are present.

Put a Bird-proof Collar on Your Cat

If you want to keep your birds safe while giving your pet cat the freedom to sun outdoors, consider buying a bird-proof collar.

These devices may be brightly colored or reflect UV rays so birds can see your cat coming. Or they may have bells on them, so birds can hear your cat approaching.

Bird-proof collars do not offer absolute protection for birds from your cat.

They are best used as just one more additional safety measure with other bird protection methods you use in your backyard.

Spray Hot Pepper Solution Around the Perimeter of Your Bird Feeder

Some hot peppers contain a potent dose of capsaicin, the irritant chemical that is measured in Scoville units.

Some peppers, like ghost peppers, rank so high on the Scoville scale that it isn’t safe to eat them in any but the tiniest amounts.

When you are handling these peppers, you should wear gloves and some kind of protection for your eyes.

Soaking these super-hot hot peppers in water overnight yields an effective cat deterrent spray. Birds aren’t bothered.

They may even eat these exceptionally hot peppers. But the moment a cat’s paw makes contact with hot pepper solution, she will quickly move away from your bird feeder.

Saturate the areas cats like to hide when stalking birds. Don’t worry about spraying the feeder itself.

Keep Your Pet Cat Indoors

Cats are always a safety hazard around birds. Even if you can keep the birds at your feeder safe, your cat may try to get its bird fix somewhere else.

Cats are safer and healthier indoors. It’s fine to let your cat watch birds from inside a window looking out at the feeder.

What about a watchdog?

All but the smallest dogs are intimidating to cats.

Their presence in your yard while birds are feeding on the food you leave for them will keep all but the most aggressive cats out of the area.

However, some dogs also attack birds. If your dog is of a breed that historically has been used for hunting birds, such as the Labrador Retriever, Pointer, Vizsla, Spaniel, or even Poodle, you may need to separate your dog from birds, too.

What You Should NOT Do to Keep Birds Safe From Cats

It is never permissible to kill cats to protect birds. This means no shooting, trapping, or poisoning. Poisons are an especially bad idea.

Pets, as well as strays, can get into them, and these killing chemicals often produce baffling symptoms until it is too late to get veterinary treatment.

Capture, neuter, and release programs for cats are also a bad idea for cities that want to maintain a bird sanctuary.

It may not be possible to tame feral cats, but it should be possible to contain them, providing them with food, water, safety, and feline companionship, so they do not wander through entire neighborhoods seeking wildlife for food.

This doesn’t mean you should feed feral cats that come to your door. That is inviting them to hunt your birds.

But feeding feral cats in designated refuges is a kindness to the cats and to the birds that visit your backyard.

Also, cats are bird natural predators and no matter how hard you try, sometimes the cat will get the bird. If you’re trying to save your birdfeeder and the birds from stray/wild cats, you can use all the deterrents we have mentioned in the articles, but remember that sometimes nothing would work (and nature will take its course).

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