Outwitting the Cat

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I used to have a German friend and every time she came to my house in Fontenay sous Bois, she would look out the window and say “there’s a blue tit” or “there’s a nuthatch”  which always made me very envious so when we came to live in Closerie Falaiseau in Blois I decided that I would learn to recognise the birds in my garden too. I checked with my friend Susan from Days on the Claise whether we should feed them because you’re not supposed to do so in Australia for survival reasons but she reassured me that we could feed them in winter without any problem as long as we did so regularly.

When it's this cold, garden birds need all the help they can get

When it’s this cold, garden birds need all the help they can get

So we waited until we came to live here permanently last winter. We bought some bird seed and some fat balls as well as a couple of feeders to put up in our rose of Sharon tree in the front yard. We also put a feeder on the window sill outside the downstairs living room. We already had a bird bath. Soon we had lots of blue tits and great tits, mostly in the rose of Sharon tree.

The rose of Sharon tree is on the right. The nesting boxes are under the eaves above the wisteria in the middle of the photo

The rose of Sharon tree is on the right. The nesting boxes are under the eaves above the wisteria in the middle of the photo.

This summer while the new kitchen window was being made, we ate outdoors every day and spent a lot of time watching the tits during mealtime. We were delighted when we saw that they had made a nest in the nesting boxes under the eaves above the wisteria. We soon saw some fledglings poking their little faces out of the holes. I might add that below the wisteria we were surprised to see wheat growing – obviously from the seeds the birds didn’t eat last winter!

The view from the kitchen window in autumn

The view from the kitchen window in autumn

When we came back from our holiday in Eastern Europe in October we started seeing birds from our new kitchen window although it was too early to feed them. One day I saw a large black and white bird with a red bit under its tail on the tree outside. I was so excited to learn that it was a great spotted woodpecker.

You can see the difference between this photo and the last one. Most of the leaves have gone.

You can see the difference between this photo and the last one. Most of the leaves have gone.

The weather started getting colder so Jean Michel put out the fat balls and some mixed bird seed in a new hanging feeder. We also bought some sunflower seeds that we put in a feeder on the sill in front of the kitchen window. The birds soon discovered the feeder and we started to identify new ones.

We now have blue tits, great tits, marsh tits and crested tits, green woodpeckers and great-spotted woodpeckers, red robins, nuthatches, jays, common chaffinches, magpies and blackbirds. They are so quick that you can’t take photos of them but I discovered that it’s easy to film them.

Our new sunflower seeds turned out to be full of debris – little twigs and such – that the birds throw out of the feeder onto the windowsill. We’re not buying birdseed from Gamm Vert any more! We whiled away many delightful moments watching the antics of our little feathered friends.

Java, sitting at the top of our stairs,  pretending she's not there

Java, sitting at the top of our stairs, pretending she’s not there

Then disaster struck. Our neighbours have a white cat called Java that seems to spend more time at our place than theirs. We suspect that some of our paying guests gave her a little nourishment in September. She is a hunter and loves our little wood where she runs after mice and lizards.

When I saw her face peering over the kitchen windowsill one day, it didn’t occur to me that she might be after the birds. Jean Michel found her pulling apart two blue tits on the ground below the window one morning before I went outside thank goodness. I was devastated when he told me what had happened. Now, I know that’s what cats do but we get a huge amount of pleasure watching these little birds and it was terrible to discover we had inadvertently exposed them to danger.

You can see the netting over the bench under the window

You can see the netting over the bench under the window

Jean Michel found an excellent solution – he used some wire fencing to cover the stone bench outside the window that the cat was using to spring on the unsuspecting birds  Now she has nothing to grip on. After two or three days the birds started coming back, first the blue tits and then the little crested tit who is my favourite.

But Java is no Sylvester and is a lot more cunning. Because she’s white, she can blend perfectly into the stone around the window. Without using the bench, she managed to sit on the window sill, apparently, staying perfectly still until an unsuspecting little blue tit came along and we had another death.

We were reduced to only putting out seed while we could monitor the presence of Java so we looked for another solution. Someone suggested putting a bell round her neck but Jean Michel says we’ll traumatise her (not that I really care!). He doesn’t want to put cat repellent out either because it might frighten away the birds as well and we’ll never get rid of the smell.

New wall solution

New wall solution

On Sunday, we went to Truffaut, the big gardening store and had a look at the options. There was nothing at all suitable but Jean Michel came up with another idea and here it is! Within a very short time the birds were flocking to the feeder and staying longer each time. We really don’t see how it’s possible for a cat to jump that high. I hope not anyway.

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8 Responses to Outwitting the Cat

  1. Helen says:

    I can feel your pain. Sincerely hope Jean Michel has found the perfect solution.
    Can you set your camera to continuous shooting?

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Thank you. I’m not sure what continuous shooting is. I only use an iPhone :). I’ll check with my iPhone savvy kids when they are arrive for Christmas.

  2. Susan Walter says:

    I’m so sorry you are having a cat problem. Domestic cats are an absolute menace. Cats are actually small mammal specialists and in the natural course of things fairly poor at catching birds. Unfortunately bird feeders allow them the opportunity to practice. Even without the cat catching a bird its presence will disturb them. It’s the reason I don’t feed the birds here. I’d just be fattening lunch for the team of feral cats in our neighbourhood.

    However, even worse than cats are people who feed cats at holiday accommodation. Grrr. I would be furious at that, but what can you do.

    Hopefully JM’s solution will work. It is a good challenge for him 🙂 You should be thankful you aren’t contending with cats and American grey squirrels, like we were in London. Cats are nothing compared to how ingenious grey squirrels are at getting to the bird food and scoffing the lot in minutes.

    If JM’s solution doesn’t work I think you need to give up on the windowsill feeder. The problem is no cover for the birds. Feeders should ideally be situated where there are trees and shrubs very close for the birds to come and go by. They will feel and be safer. I suggest erecting a tall sturdy pole with some arms to hang feeders off, next to a medium sized shrub.

    Bells on cats don’t work as far as I can see. Usually what happens is they lose the bell one way or another. I’m not a big fan of collars on cats. Mostly they don’t like wearing them and will work them off. If they do stay on and they are hunters they can snag and be dangerous. If the cat is not a hunter then they are a bit pointless.

    One thing you could try is having a water pistol handy and squirt Java whenever you see her hunting. She’ll be offended, but unharmed and it should act as aversion therapy if you can get her a few times.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Java has always preferred our place. It’s obviously far more interesting than her own home. She always studiously ignores both of us and acts as if she lives here. I’m glad we don’t have squirrels as well!
      Yes, I know, this is the last try. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll have to give it up but I love going to watch the birds during my work breaks. Outside, they are a little too far for me to really see them.
      I’m going to buy a water pistol though. With Christmas around the corner, they should be easy to get. JM isn’t convinced though …

  3. Susie Kelly says:

    Cats can jump astonishingly high – one of ours actually caught a swallow in flight over the pond, and it was at least 4 ft. up. We do love cats – although we don’t have one any more – but to outwit the neighbouring felines we hang the bird feeders well away from anywhere the cats can approach unseen.

    We have a bird feeder at the bedroom window – that is far too high for even the most agile cat to reach, and also scatter seeds on a garden table outside my office window, where different varieties meet to socialise and share a meal, and there is no cover for the cats to hide. I photograph them through the window with a high shutter speed.

    A French friend buys cheap fat and smears it on the branches of bushes, which attracts plenty of birds and provides an opportunity to photograph them in their natural habitat. But at the moment, with this very mild weather – the sun is beating on the windows this morning – any fat would soon melt.

    We haven’t started feeding yet this year, as there still seems to be plenty of natural food around. When the bluetits begin pecking on the windows, we know it’s time to put food out. 🙂

  4. Rosemary Kneipp says:

    Four feet is very high, but I’m not sure if she has enough running distance to get to the new elevated feeder and she can’t just spring up from the window ledge. At least I hope not.

    I don’t have anywhere that I can put a bird table that doesn’t have cover and that I can actually see. We have the feeders in the trees, which is great, but I have to use binoculars to see them.

    I’m pretty sure we’ve found the solution now though. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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