Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I grew up with birds and dogs. It never occurred to me that birds, especially small ones, would be safe around cats. In fact, I was stunned when I visited someone with two cockatiels sitting on an end table with a cat sleeping on a couch nearby. When I asked, they said the cat had never threatened them.

A few years later, my young son wanted a pet parakeet, or to be more exact, a budgerigar parakeet. We had two cats, and he promised to keep the bird behind his closed bedroom door. Skybird became very tame, but the inevitable happened. One day when my son was away, I heard a loud crash and rushed into his room. The door had been left open and the cage was on the floor, popped apart. The bird was sitting on a curtain rod, unhurt. Realizing what must have happened, I looked under the bed and pulled out a very frightened cat. I was about to scold him when I noticed a bloody divot in the tip of his nose … the cause of the crashed cage. He was one cat who never investigated the cage or the bird again.

Years later we added two cockatiels and another budgie to our household. The cats ignored them as if they were part of the furniture. When I put up two cages of zebra finches in our bedroom, our Birman cat would lie on the window sill and watch them. Over time I came to trust him and didn’t worry as he watched generation after generation of zebra finches grow and fledge close enough that he could have jumped onto the cage if he chose to, but he never did. It was entertainment enough just to watch.

Today, decades later, our three cats live in close proximity with over 20 Bourke and Splendid parakeets, as did others before them. They’ve never bothered any of our cages. They recognize the birds as part of the family. Recently, tending the feet of a young Bourke that had never flown before, it unexpectedly flew from my hand. On its first solo flight, the little thing landed on a couch directly in front of our black cat, close enough that she could have extended her foot only slightly and squashed it flat.

“No Mei-Ling!” I yelled at her, but I needn’t have bothered. Mei-Ling simply looked at the baby bird and did not move toward it or away from it. I quickly crossed the room and retrieved the bird, telling Mei-Ling what a good girl she was. It never hurts to reinforce good behavior.

When outside, Mei-Ling is quite a huntress. I scold if I see her stalking birds, so she doesn’t seem to do that anymore. Her main prey are mice and voles.

Our other cat, Patches, was already old when we took her in as a sick stray three years ago. She’s now beautiful and quickly learned that indoor birds are to be ignored. Since she survived on her own outside for several winter months, I’m sure she ate mice and wild birds, but she knows I don’t want her to bothering birds of any kind. Recently, she had a chipmunk and released it when I insisted she do so. It escaped, apparently unhurt. Either she will leave them alone in the future, or she won’t let me see her with one…

Every cat is different, so never immediately trust any cat to leave your birds alone. Spend time with them, scolding if they look eagerly toward the birds. Most are quick to learn that your indoor birds are off limits. However, at night our cats are not allowed access to any rooms with birds in them. I’ve become lax about going outside and leaving the cats indoors and don’t worry, but for prolonged periods, I don’t leave them alone with the birds. That said, we did take a trip last summer and were gone 6 or 7 hours and thought Me-Too, our male cat, was outside. He wasn’t. When we got home, we discovered him asleep in a window seat with access to all the bird cages. Nothing was disturbed and all was quiet. He probably slept the entire time.

Years ago, our old cat, Paws, was indoors when the cockatiels came out to play. Our male cockatiel dive bombed Paws in the same way mockingbirds will dive bomb cats. I’ve seen cats catch mockingbirds who did that to them and Paws certainly could have quickly dispatched the cockatiel rather quickly. However, Paws hunkered down and waited for us to remove the bird from the room. He knew he shouldn’t harm it, even though it was harassing him.

Each cat is different and some couldn’t avoid that sort of temptation. Whenever a bird is out of the cage, remember that it is more vulnerable to predation by a cat or dog. Keep that in mind and be careful. Our pet birds usually don’t come out of their cage(s) when the cats are present. Each cat and each bird has a unique personality. You’ll need to decide what’s safe and what isn’t for your pets.

If you want cats and birds … go ahead, but take the time to train your cats and never leave them alone with the birds until you are certain it’s safe. Best scenario is stay in the same room with them, or separate them when you’re not present.
Enjoy your birds and all other pets!

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