For Whom the Bell Collar Tolls: Why You Should Bell Your Cat

Sicily th CatDid you know that there are over 7.7 million cats in the US? I have heard that more people have cats and dogs than they have children.

I have two cats myself, named Sicily and Sydney. Though we more often refer to Sydney as Stupid because, frankly, Mother Nature must have been distracted when handing out brains. He has only managed to live this long due to the fact that we live on a quiet suburban street. My husband says that Sydney has the survival instincts of a lemming.

There has been more than a few occasions where I have had to go remove him from the path of oncoming cars while apologizing profusely to the driver who has been patiently honking their horn at him. He seems to think that the middle of the street make a good cat bed and feels that he is above moving for mere 2 ton steel creatures. His attempts at making the feline version of the Darwin Awards do not end there.*sigh*

But they are my cats and I love them both. I am a responsible cat owner. I had them spayed and neutered. I feed them decent quality cat food. I get their shots done regularly. I clean their litter box, or at least have produced children who I can direct to clean the litter box. All around, I am a good cat owner.

I am also a responsible cat gardener. Both my cats have not one, but two metal id tags. The reason for this can be heard whenever my cats prance through the house, accompanied by an almost musical and certainly audible jingle-jangle.

The reason I do this to my little kitties is not for their safety, but rather the safety of the birds in my garden.

I am not a birdwatcher, but I do enjoy birds. I also realize that they are important to a healthy garden ecosystem. More importantly, I am a huge fan of natural balance and the fact is that the cat population, much like the deer population, is terribly out of balance.

Despite the best efforts of urban legends about the uses of cats in Chinese restaurants, cat has not caught on as a sought after foodstuff. Cats not only have no natural predators, they are kept strong and healthy by doting owners. This is not good for the native bird population.

Domesticated cats are also an introduced species. They are not native to the US. They are not the natural predators of American songbirds, no matter how long domesticated cats have lived here. Also, because cats are such a popular household pet, their numbers have increased rather dramatically over the past few decades. As a result, the cat population is doing some serious damage to the bird population.

Because of this, I do believe that I have an obligation to make it as difficult as possible for my cats to enjoy a tasty meal of fresh robin or cardinal. Yes, it is their natural instinct, but they are not natural to North America and they exist in an unnatural environment where they have a serious advantage over native species.

I am beginning to think that it is perhaps it is a feeling of deep seated guilt that drives Sydney to do the stupid things he does. Perhaps his supposed stupidity is actually an effort on his part to discover a native predator for the domesticated cat. Of course he still doesn’t get to drop the nickname since he hasn’t figured out that cars don’t really count as a predator.

7 thoughts on “For Whom the Bell Collar Tolls: Why You Should Bell Your Cat
  1. Pingback: Feral Strawberries

  2. Michael S. on

    Thanks for the article, I found it helpful in dealing with my guilt of keeping a cat and also loving birds. I bell him, and make it as difficult as I can for him to make hors d’oeuvres of sparrows and field mice.



  3. Do you know that cat bells don’t really work as you would expect? Cats have been shown to move more stealthily to prevent the bell disturbing their prey.

    It is far safer for the birds if you can attract them in large numbers with feeders, etc. The larger numbers means more eyes to spot a cat out hunting.


  4. A bit more info:

    A fact sheet put out by the Mammal Society but unfortunately no longer available on their website showed that putting bells on cats does not limit their hunting ability, in fact belled cats in one particular study caught more wildlife than their unbelled equivalents. Some reasons given were that belled cats learn to move even more stealthily, the bells are not loud enough to alert wildlife of danger anyway, and inertia holds the clanger stationary and therefore silent when the cat makes the final attacking leap. At least two other studies have highlighted that the belling of cats has no effect on number of birds caught. “The efficiency of fitting cats with bells is contentious. Barrette (1998), found that belling of cats has no significant effect on the amount of prey caught. The result of the longer study by Woods et al. shows that fewer mammals (mainly rodents) were killed and brought home by cats that were equipped with bells BUT bird capture rates were not affected. Bells may serve as a warning to rodents and other mammals of a predator’s approach, but birds may rely largely on visual cues in predator avoidance behavior or they may not hear the bell due to its acoustic qualities (Woods et al.). Coleman et al. (1997) suggests that wild animals don’t necessarily associate the ringing of the bell with danger and that some cats with bells on their collars learn to stalk their prey silently.”
    Barrette D.G. (1998). Predation by house cats, Felis catus (L.), in Canberra, Australia, II. Factors affecting the amount of prey caught and estimates of the impact on wildlife. Wildlife Research. 25: 475-487.
    Woods M., McDonald R.A. and Harris S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. The Mammal Society.


  5. Michael S. on

    About those “scientific” studies on birds as cat prey – Just how were these tests performed, and how many birds were sacrificed in the name of Science?

    My plan is to attract as few birds as possible to our yard. Place the feeder on a pole the cat can not climb, And bell him, because whenever he moves, we hear the bell.

    I share your anger at an owner who lets his pets roam free, but my choice is to let him enjoy the best quality of life he can, despite some of the dangers.


  6. fruittiger on

    White, Latino, Black and Asian American are as well non natives. They should for sure wear a bell around their neck, maybe it helps to reduce the damage they do to north America.


  7. Michelle on

    It seems there would be a much better way than a bell to keep birds safe. Before I put collars on my cats, I removed the bells. I was going to do this anyways but my brother lightly jingled one of the bells in my ear (which is extremely loud even with a light jingle & gave me a small headache) & asked how I’d like to hear that ALL DAY that close to my ears. Don’t cats have sensitive hearing anyways?


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