Our relationship with cats spans millennia, from the earliest human civilizations. Cats would hunt mice and rats in barns, keeping ancient homes pest-free. But with the advent of modern pest control, do felines have a role in modern pest control? Our answer: perhaps, but not for birds. When you let your cat execute your neighborhood's bird control, you're most likely doing more harm than good to the birds, your cat, and yourself.
It's in a cat's genes and instincts to hunt, although some cats (like Garfield) might be too lazy to bother. Your cat may delight in presenting you with a dead bird on your doorstep, but it's likely an unwelcome gift for the owner. But a dead bird in your home isn't just gross. Birds can be host to innumerable diseases and parasites, like salmonella and histoplasmosis. These can quickly spread to your beloved kitty, racking up a hefty vet bill, or even you and your human loved ones. (Always wear gloves when handling a dead bird!)
This is not to say that cats can't be pest controllers - it's what they're best at! Some shelters have a working cat program where cats are adopted and "hired" to go after pests in barns, warehouses, and other non-residential spaces. The United Kingdom even has a famous feline professional pest technician, Tom, who primarily prowls on mice. Cats are excellent at keeping vermin at bay even without hunting, as their scent is sometimes enough to deter critters who know better.
The problem arises when cats expand their pest control business and prowl the neighborhood. Nearly all birds are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, save for pigeons, starlings, and sparrows. But cats can't discern between bird species; if left unchecked, they will swiftly destroy your local bird population. Nature Communications estimates that cats kill about 3.7 billion birds each year!
The kicker here is that if you're letting your cat run the neighborhood in the name of pest control, you're working against yourself. As much as birds have the potential to be pests, they also act as pest control for other pests, hunting rodents and bugs and keeping the local ecosystem in check. Fewer birds lead to more bugs, which could lead to fewer plants as they overpopulate and overwhelm your garden - and maybe even make their way into your home.
So even though cats are great at pest control, it's essential to keep them from hunting birds. Their hunting instincts can upset the local ecosystem and they could bring home a bird that has parasites or diseases. If you're having problems with birds, call a professional like AviAway instead of letting your cat hunt them.