Another product has been invented that could supposedly cut down on the number of wild birds killed by domestic cats. Created by Nancy Brennan, Birdsbesafe looks like a stiff, brightly-colored Elizabethan collar – not the long plastic post-surgical cones that pets occasionally have to wear, but a small donut that fits around the cat’s neck without getting in the way. The idea is that brilliant colors will warn birds that something is coming, and they’ll fly away.
Bells don’t work; cat bibs sometimes do, but cat owners rarely use them – saying they’re “too restrictive.” The same cannot be said about Birdsbesafe, which allows the cat as much movement as it wants. Birdsbesafe was invented in 2009, has a website filled with testimonials, and has received high praise from St. Lawrence University associate professor Dr. Susan Willson, who led a field study involving pet cats in 2013 and 2014. “The Birdsbesafe® collar is highly effective at reducing bird deaths,” she writes.
The testimonials all credit Birdsbesafe with reducing the number of birds killed by pet cats. A sampling:
“It was heartbreaking to watch (my cat) bring home between one and four birds a week.”
“Three of my eight are prolific bird killers. I found it so distressing to see them bring me back dead birds.”
“Before we ordered Birdsbesafe collars, our two cats… were bringing in birds frequently, and it was breaking our hearts.”
“… our cat … has been tormenting us daily with dead birds on the back porch. Sometimes two or three a day!”
All these tender, tormented people, spending years crying crocodile tears about maimed and butchered birds, when all they had to do was close the door and keep their lethal property inside.
“My cat is a ferocious birder … and I am also a serious bird lover.”
Right. And I am a serious environmentalist, and my heart bleeds every time I take my old car batteries and leftover rat poison and dump them in the river.
Does Birdsbesafe work? It might be better than nothing. Will the people who determinedly allow their cats to slaughter wild birds use it? I desperately hope so. The woman who invented it was a responsible cat owner who never let her cats outside; she then married a man who let his out all the time, leading to an invention instead of the usual piteous hand-wringing. Her product could have an impact on pet cat-caused bird mortality rates.
“The conservation implications are clear,” writes researcher Dr. Susan Willson. “If owners of outdoor cats choose to use Birdsbesafe® collar covers, a significant factor in the decline of songbird populations would drop precipitously.”
If they choose to use it. If.
Once again, if it can cut down on the carnage, it’s better than nothing. But I have been rehabbing wild birds for 25 years, and have seen the dead-eyed shrugs of those who hand me bloody, shredded little birds, say “it’s just nature,” and drive away feeling as if they’ve done something heroic.
Outdoor cat owners: does the sight of the mangled birds your well-fed pet drags around upset you? Then keep your cats inside. No product works as well as taking responsibility for the agonizing deaths for which you are personally responsible, and keeping your cat indoors has the added benefit of protecting it from cars, predators, disease, starvation, fights, traps, guns, poison, etc.
However, if you don’t mind subjecting your “beloved” pet to all these hazards and you feel so, so sad about all the dismembered songbirds lying all over your living room, it’s better than nothing – just like having ten shots of tequila and driving is better than having twelve. And remember – it won’t help fledglings at all, as they’re still trying to figure out what is dangerous in their strange new world. Your cat’s bright new collar will not save them, just as putting it on your cat and letting it outside will not make you a decent pet owner.
Great article! After I read “Flyaway” I vowed never to let my cats outside.
Thank you – you made my day.
If only all cat owners were like you!
Hi, I have 7 cats, they go outside under supervision and live in the house. I love birds and have been an avid bird watcher with my dad since I was very small. My cats have never caught a bird!
Jennifer, unless you are watching them every second – and it would be hard to do that with 7 cats – you can’t be sure they haven’t caught any birds. Try googling “Outdoor Cat Enclosures” – they provide total safety for both birds and cats.
I appreciate this article and understand the passion with which you wrote it. I would say, though, that some aspects of your approach may unfortunately alienate the very people you’re trying to reach!
If you want to encourage people who love birds (or “love birds” as perhaps you would say) to keep their cats indoors or wear these collars, then perhaps don’t go out of your way to question their motives or call them hypocrites! Inform and educate with compassion! Although I can totally understand the frustration.
Thank you for being a bird rehabilitating hero! And for the info.
Thanks for your comments and your understanding.
I started off that way – trying to encourage people nicely and gently about keeping their cats inside, and got nowhere. There were people like the wonderful Erika Z, who responded above, who read my book and then kept her cats inside – but even in my book I was ranting. Providing book-length stories and examples instead of a quick blog, but still ranting.
I wish I could be more even handed, but I’ve taken in too many ripped to shreds songbirds, carefully and evenhandedly explained the situation to the cat owner, and had them return with another songbird three days later. They don’t listen, and they don’t care. They deserve the abuse I end up heaping upon them.
I just re-posted a video of orphaned nestlings on another site and said “Their parents were both killed by someone’s pet cat – please keep your cats inside!” etc. Very short. That’s the nicest I can be. This one is mid-range. For extreme, see “An Open Letter to Outdoor/Feral Cat Supporters” on this site. Trying to cover all bases, because in this war, the birds don’t stand a chance.
I’m not a fan of these collars, because they’re not a solution, but they’re better than nothing. It’s a hard line to write.
Good luck to you, and thanks for the feedback.
Thank you SO much for all you do! I too am SO weary of trying to convince people to keep cats inside. I love cats, have 2 and they are inside! For years, there weren’t cat owners around me, but now, we have three new neighbors and all have outdoor cats. I tell them I’m a birder. I explain that we live in a very special bird sanctuary here , in a rural part of Humboldt county CA. Birders would go nuts just sitting in our yard as we have SO many variations of birds. We spend far more time outside than inside because….birds! Nobody will listen. Nobody gets it. I tell them the stats of birds murdered by cats, they don’t care. I even have some very smart friends who call themselves “environmentalists ,” push veganism, but try and claim the stats are a lie. They try to say, ” Oh, MY cat doesn’t kill birds…” Here I am ranting about what you clearly understand. I just made a homemade ” birdsbesafe ” collar for our neighbor cat, who after only 2 days. Is already stalking in our yard. They SAY they’ll try it, but I’m guessing they’ll find an excuse to not use it. And of course, it won’t help enough. There’s a mountain lion in our hood lately, like RIGHT here at our house. I’m not saying I want to kill someone’s beloved pet, but…..if the mountain lion gets these cats, I’m not crying over it.
I sent the new neighbor who’s cat is stalking here, a picture of a male, Western Tanager yesterday. They rarely come here so it’s a nig deal to me. She was like ,” Wow! What a beautiful bird!” It was all I could do to not say, ” Yes, so don’t let your cat kill it!”
So ,so sick of it.
Thank you again for rescuing the birds and speaking out.
What is the best article you know of that I could send these people? I’ve read a lot, but I’m sure you have more information.