Just over a year ago, the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, started working to address the issue of the impact that free-roaming cats have on birds. Through the many conversations that were initiated over the year, with both cat owners and non-cat owners, we began to see that there is a common misconception about where birds spend their time. Of course birds are up in the trees and flying overhead, but less obvious is the time they spend on or near the ground — i.e. the reasons they are so vulnerable to free-roaming cats. We decided to create a poster that describes the ways that birds are easy targets.
Just a few of the birds highlighted on the poster include the Barn Swallow, which is a threatened species in the Maritimes, the Northern Cardinal, and the Song Sparrow. As its name suggests, Barn Swallows build nest in barns, however they will chose sheds and porch eves as nesting sites as well. The presence of cats will cause Barn Swallow parents a lot of stress while they’re rearing their babies and once the babies begin to fly they are easy targets for cats if fledglings land on the ground or rest in low lying shrubs as they learn to fly.
Male Northern Cardinals will sing from high in the treetops, but when it comes to finding a nesting site, these bright red birds build their nests in low-lying tangled shrubbery – sometimes as low as a meter off the ground. This makes both the parents and babies easy targets to cats. It may seem counterintuitive for any bird to build its nest where they are vulnerable to cats but if parent birds select their nest site and lay eggs before a neighbourhood cat shows up, then the whole family is in trouble.
Northern Flickers, like other woodpeckers, prefer to nest in hollows in dead trees. But they forage primarily on the ground for insects to eat and feed to their young. Free-roaming cats that like to climb can put babies at risk, and Flickers or any other bird that feeds at ground level (e.g., American Gold Finch or Dark-eyed Junco) are particularly vulnerable.
The up side, however, is that because of the ways that birds are close to the ground and make use of urban and backyard habitats, they also provide us with a wonderful window into their lives. By keeping neighbourhoods free of unsupervised outdoor cats, and observing birds quietly from a respectful distance, we can all benefit from the learning opportunity in our own backyards. How many birds can you find in the shrubs or open areas in your backyard or neighbourhood? How are they moving around and foraging?
To find a copy of the poster (pictured above) and other great resources to help keep birds and cats safe on the Bird Conservation Committee’s Safe in the City website.