Cats and mice are old-time rivals, but looking at all the feathery toys my cat enjoys playing with it’s quite clear that they enjoy bird hunting too.
Catching a bird must be a difficult task, even for an agile hunter like our feline friends, but what happens if a well-fed house cat catches a bird? Will it meet the same fate as a mouse would?
Do cats eat birds? Cats do eat birds. As obligate carnivores, hunting for meat is how cats survive and birds are definitely on the menu. However, many cats will hunt and kill birds without actually eating them. In these cases, cats seem to simply enjoy the hunt even if they don’t need a meal.
If you want to take a closer look into your cat’s hunting instincts, find out if they eat the birds they catch, and discover how this could affect the ecosystem, keep on reading!
Do Cat Eat Birds?
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need a meat-based diet in order to survive. Their digestive system isn’t built for a vegan diet, and they aren’t able to get all their required nutrients without eating meat.
Birds certainly aren’t vegetables so they’re perfectly suited for cats to eat. Certain species are also small which makes them easier prey both for catching, carrying, and eating whole. But birds can be difficult to catch, which might make them not the number one choice for cats.
According to research, “Rodents were the most common prey in both environments (urban and rural), but shrews and reptiles were killed by cats more often in the rural environment while birds (mainly sparrows and pigeons) were more common in the urban environment.”
The research also showed that the type of prey a cat would go for changed depending on the seasons, and the availability of certain prey in their environment. So, while birds might be difficult to catch cats usually hunt them around June when their population is on the rise. In many cases, cats will not only hunt birds but also eat them. Still, this isn’t always the case so let’s take a closer look at how our feline friends hunt.
The Hunting Behavior Of Cats
Having a better understanding of our feline companions, and especially their hunting behavior, whether they’re kept indoors or outdoors, can greatly improve their lives and the human-cat relationship.
According to the National Park Service, “domestic house cats are highly skilled predators and outdoor cats living near or adjacent to natural areas are likely to prey on many of our natural neighbors.” So, it comes as no surprise that their primary role in human society was as mousers on ships and pest controllers on farms.
For this reason, before bringing a kitty into your home it’s important to consider their basic needs. Because cats are in many ways autonomous, they’re oftentimes characterized as low maintenance animals, and their need to hunt, play and explore can be overlooked.
Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB explains that when having an indoor cat “the feline desire to hunt is not connected to the sensation of hunger and no matter how well you feed your cat it will still react to the sight and sound of prey with an instinctive stalk.”
She also adds that “since most outdoor cats will hunt upwards of 10 mice a day, some form of alternative outlets will be needed for predation.” So, no matter how well-fed your feline companion might be they’ll still need mental and physical stimulation through play, otherwise, they’ll become bored, depressed, and may even display excessive and destructive behaviors.
In other words, our cats need to hunt! Even if they’re not hungry!
Do Cats Eat Birds Or Just Kill Them?
Birds can be a fascinating type of prey for cats to hunt, even if they’re difficult to catch. If we take a moment to observe our cats and the toys they enjoy playing with, they usually have feathers and if you toss the feathery ribbon up, they can resemble a bird in flight.
Mikel Delgado, co-author of recent research on feline behavior confirms this by saying that “the patterns of behavior are similar, and the things that entice cats to hunt also get them excited about toys.” So, if cats can play with their toys that they consider prey without eating them, can they do the same with alive prey?
Well, according to research on cat’s predatory behavior hunger isn’t necessary for killing. To be more precise, the study showed that cats were more likely to kill an animal if they were hungry if the prey was small and easy to catch. If the cat wasn’t hungry or the prey was large and more difficult to catch, they would play with the prey before or after, or instead of killing.
This shows us that cats can catch a bird and eat it, or simply kill it and play with it instead. The reason why a cat would hunt if not hungry could be part of an opportunistic approach.
Depending on a cat’s environment and the difficulty of catching and even finding the surrounding prey, it would make sense if cats would hunt every time they detected prey because it’s quite likely that they wouldn’t risk waiting for prey to appear when they were feeling hungry.
Perhaps seeing our innocent-looking cat bat at their prey and in a way “toying” with it might come as a shock, or discovering a dead bird on our doorstep as a gift and symbol of their feline love would make us sad and furious, but it’s also a reminder that cats are animals, and their instincts are also part of who they are.
Is It Safe For My Cat To Eat A Bird?
While your cat could be perfectly fine after eating a bird, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a dangerous habit overall. To ensure your kitty is perfectly healthy after eating a bird, it’s advisable to take them to the vet.
If your kitty is living an outdoor life, or even if they spend their day on the balcony, it’s always good to know the possible risks of eating something other than their food, be it a bug or a bird.
Cats can be picky and careful eaters, but then there are those who’ll eat anything. Since birds aren’t all meat, they’ve got feathers and small bones all over their body, they’re a potential hazard to your cat’s health, especially for infrequent hunters.
According to, Patricia Walters, VMD, DACVIM, DACVECC, from the New England Animal Medical Center, bones are the most common foreign object that can get stuck in the esophagus, and cause “excessive drooling, gagging, regurgitation, and repeated attempts to swallow. If the object is stuck for a long time, decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy may be seen.”
Regurgitation, which is different from vomiting, and mainly affects the esophagus, happens when your kitty was too full when eating the bird, or your kitty ate the bird too fast. Unlike vomiting, it happens right after eating or drinking.
It’s only understandable that domestic cats could have trouble eating and even digesting a whole bird. If you notice your kitty vomiting, having diarrhea, being restless, drooling, and gagging no matter what they ate, a visit to the veterinarian can not only alleviate their discomfort but also save them if their condition proves to be serious.
As mentioned earlier, cats that are especially not used to eating birds or other prey they catch can be in danger of food poisoning. It could be because it’s their first time trying this new type of food, but it could be something more serious.
While you might be 100% sure about your kitty’s health, you can’t know the state the bird was in when your cat caught it or even found it. The bird could’ve been injured, weak or diseased and a domestic cat could miss these troubling signs.
A bird could also be carrying a large number of bacteria, that could be responsible for your cat’s stomach bug symptoms, like vomiting or regurgitating, possible diarrhea, and weakness to name a few. These are all serious enough for your cat to get a check-up at the vet!
Parasites And Diseases
Another reason it might be dangerous for your cat to eat a bird they just caught is the risk of getting seriously sick. Birds can have internal and external parasites that can, in turn, be transmitted to cats, and roundworms, tapeworms, fleas, ticks, and mites are generally the more common types.
According to studies on birds in urban areas, sparrows were the most infected birds (52.4%), and since they’re small in size they could be the perfect catch and infect your feline companion.
Ernest Ward, DVM explains that such infections are serious and can be fatal in kittens while in adult cats “intestinal parasites are only occasionally life-threatening.” He also adds that “Debilitated animals or those that have a weakened immune system are more likely to experience severe intestinal parasitism and show clinical signs due to their worms.”
Even if a worm infection isn’t extremely serious, a medicine that can fight, prevent and control parasites is essential and should keep your kitty safe. Your veterinarian is the best person to get a proper recommendation on such medicine which will be based accordingly to your cat’s lifestyle, and weight
It’s important to note that birds can also cause a condition called “songbird fever” which happens when cats are infected with salmonella. This simple fact is proven by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which states that raw meat and raw pet foods can be dangerous both to cats and to their owners.
This serious infection not only affects your cat’s health, but it could transfer to humans. The symptoms of salmonellosis are usually vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), fever, inappetence, and lethargy.
Whether your kitty ate a bird or even raw meat, make sure to keep a close eye on them. Cats can carry this disease without showing any signs, so, washing your hands after touching your cat, not kissing your cat, or allowing your cat to lick your face is essential in order to keep you safe.
The Environmental Impact Of Cats Killing Birds
As responsible cat owners, the health and overall wellbeing of our feline companions should be our top priority, but bird hunting doesn’t only impact the health of our furry friends, but also the lives of birds and their population.
Birds might not be your cat’s number one choice of prey, but since they’re not always available in the cities and even the suburbs, birds are the next best thing. Depending on the area, the country, and the cat population the consequences of feline hunting can be significant. A 2012 report, done in Australia showed that “There are up to 20 million feral cats taking up to four native Australian animals a night. That is over 20 billion Australian native species being destroyed a year.”
The report claims that a feral cat can kill between five to 30 animals a day, but they admit that keeping track of the precise number is difficult. Another study showed that the reason cats could have such an impact on prey specifically on islands is that “cats prey on a variety of native species many of which lack evolved defenses against mammalian predators and can suffer severe population declines and even extinction.”
Feral cats are also established on eight of the main Hawaiian Islands and are considered to be a devastating threat to the Hawaiian wildlife. Officials at the Kaua‘i National Wildlife Refuge Complex also discovered that cats had killed at least 237 endangered birds. It’s important to point out that apart from feral cats, domestic cats also have an impact on native wildlife.
The Hawaiian officials made clear that “pet owners play a crucial role by spaying, neutering, licensing, or microchipping their cats, and by keeping the animals indoors.” Another report in New Zealand showed that “Feral cats have been implicated in the decline of at least six species of island endemic birds in New Zealand.”
The US being also part of this conversation showed that while free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3-4.0 billion birds annually. The research done in the UK also showed the significant effect domestic cats can have on prey populations, which has created a difficult but necessary conversation with the owners on how to manage their cats’ hunting instincts.
How To Stop My Cat Killing Birds?
To keep yourself, your kitty, as well as the bird population happy it’s important to stop your fluffy friend from killing them and any other animal in your area. It can be a difficult task especially for the owners whose cats have been enjoying the outdoors most of their life, but it’s definitely possible.
Alter Your Cat’s Feedings
Feral cats that don’t have constant access to food will make sure to look for sustenance and could spend the whole day hunting for prey, and even though your house kitty’s hunting behavior isn’t entirely motivated by hunger, small changes in their diet can decrease the hours they might’ve might spent on hunting each day.
A recent study done by the University Of Exeter found that “introducing a premium commercial food where proteins came from meat reduced the number of prey animals cats brought home by 36%, and also that five to ten minutes of daily play with an owner resulted in a 25% reduction.”
Of course, overfeeding your cat is never the answer, but finding a cat food brand that they really enjoy, with a high meat content and suitable nutrients could keep them hooked. Small portions throughout the day and night, could also help mimic their natural feeding patterns, and an automatic cat food feeder can be perfect for cat parents that have to spend long hours away from home!
Consider toys with their favorite food or treats in them, that not only will keep them fit, satisfy their hunger, and their hunting instincts but might also help minimize bird fatalities!
Turn Hunting Into Play
Cats are natural-born hunters and we shouldn’t even try to change that, what we can do is replace a real bird with a toy bird instead. As owners, we aren’t only responsible for our cat’s food intake, but their overall environment and needs and by playing with them we’re satisfying their inner need to hunt.
By increasing the time, you spend playing with your cat, and finding what really gets them excited can successfully trigger their predatory behavior, increase their engagement and make them have fun!
It’s a great alternative both for your kitty and the environment, but it can also help you establish yourself as their favorite human!
Keep Your Cat Indoors
Changing your cat’s feeding schedule and play activity can help reduce their hunting habits, but the most effective way to stop bird killing and keep them safe is making a permanent outdoor to indoor transition.
This major change in your cat’s life and environment can have an equally major effect on their wellbeing, so, suddenly locking them inside isn’t a wise choice either. According to veterinarians “Many cats will adjust with little effort, while others will be miserable—and let you know it. They might scratch at doors, claw at windows, yowl, and try to dash through open doors.”
Feeding them indoors and gradually increasing the amount of time you keep them inside afterward can turn the transition into a positive one. Don’t forget to introduce them to indoor play sessions, scratching posts, and of course the litterbox. You could make the inside of your home more fun, with lots of toys, by growing small portions of cat grass, and of course your love and attention. With time instead of gifting you dead birds, you might find your cat bringing you their toys instead!
Creating the perfect indoor environment you will be keeping your kitty safe from outside dangers. Studies have shown that “urban cats that go outdoors have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats will live over 15 years.”
Spaying and Neutering your cat is also important wherever you choose to keep them, but it definitely will reduce their need to go out in order to mate or mark the whole neighborhood as their personal territory! If you’ve got a cat in heat, you can find a list of low-cost spay/neuter clinics across the globe thanks to PetSmart by clicking here.
Safe Outdoor Activities
Not all cats can handle being kept inside, but there are a few things you can do to make the transition easier!
Training your cat to go on walks can also be a great middle-ground in which you can keep your cat strictly indoors while providing them the outdoors. This way you’ll be able to set your own timeline and have the situation under control if a bird suddenly catches your cat’s attention.
Look for a secure harness, suitable for your cat’s size that will keep your kitty from running away and slipping out of it, and make sure your kitty is comfortable and that you take it slow.
Catio And Outdoor Cat Enclosure
Another great alternative to the outdoors is a cat run, which is an enclosed space that your pet could access from your home. This way you don’t really need to keep an eye on your cat and they can safely observe the outside world without being able to go after other animals.
The enclosure can be as big as your house and yard allows it to be and if you have space you could make it big enough to fit non-toxic trees and bushes, which will give your cat a more “real” outdoor experience. You could even make enough space for yourself in such a dream Catio!
Just check this amazing rainproof cat heaven!
These enclosures are a great middle-ground for cats that can’t be satisfied with living indoors. Look for companies in your area that can install a catio according to your needs, or if you’re comfortable with building it yourself there are plenty of DIY ideas on the web.
I have a small catio on my balcony and one tip that I have to give is, don’t forget to provide shade, and water, especially during the hot months of the year to avoid any unsatisfied meows!
If for some reason you still can’t keep your kitty indoors, or you’re simply taking care of the strays in your neighborhood, then consider getting them a collar with a bell. A bell will be able to inform a bird of your cat’s whereabouts, giving them enough time to fly away.
It’s important to note that the wrong collar can be dangerous. A great option for your kitty could be this safe, quick-release collar, the Beastie Bands Collar available on Amazon. It comes in different patterns, and it’s also lightweight and less constricting. Their collars can be custom-fitted, they’ve got a sturdy build that can hold a bell and a tag that will release your cat in case it gets caught.
You could also consider letting your cat outdoors when prey species aren’t as active. Since cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they see their way around in low levels of light, they tend to hunt during dusk and dawn where they have the most advantage. Keeping them inside during these hours can be an important obstacle in their hunting success!
Finally, you could look into the bird species common in your area and when their migration season ends and begins. Being aware of bird activity and keeping your cat inside when their vulnerable can help reduce their death rates.
Loving our cats also means understanding the kind of creatures they are. Of course, they are loving, purring fluffballs, as well as vulnerable little animals, but they’re also skilled hunters.
This attribute might seem like something negative, but there are ways we can keep them happy, without forcing them to change it, but by changing their prey instead, as well as holding ourselves accountable.
There’s a middle ground in loving cats and keeping birds safe, we just simply have to wave that feathery wand better!
Now it’s your turn to tell us whether your cat has ever brought you a bird or if they only watch them fly by, chirping at the missed opportunity!