Natural predation is going to occur in your yard from time to time, and as the name implies, it is natural and there is often not much you can do to stop it. There is also unnatural predation of your wildlife, such as cats living in the neighborhood coming to your yard to hunt the birds and small animals you are feeding. The tips included below are primarily ways to help decrease unnatural predation, but they may help with natural predation as well.
A cat is an ambush hunter, meaning that it will typically lay in wait under cover until a small mammal or bird comes within attack range, when the cat will spring up and try to catch the animal using the element of surprise. Stray dogs are much more direct in their predatory nature. Dogs will rely more on speed, power, and exhausting the prey than on stealth, but the result will be the same if the dog is successful at running down a small mammal or bird.
To discourage backyard predators:
- Locate your bird feeders away from areas where cats can easily conceal themselves. Locate the feeder 10 to 15 feet away from bushes or thick ground cover, so that a cat will have to cover that ground before it can reach its intended prey. That extra 10 or 15 feet will give the bird or small mammal a greater chance to escape the predator.
- Don’t give stray dogs or cats a reason to come to your yard in the first place. Keep household trash that you’ve taken outdoors closed up in a trash can with a secure lid that dogs or cats can not knock off. The smell from trash or from outdoor pet-food bowls will often draw strays to your yard. They may try to prey upon small mammals and birds after they are done with the trash or pet-food bowl.
- Animal guards manufactured for trees can be used on trees where birds may likely nest in your yard. This will protect baby birds still in the nest as well as the parents of the babies.
If you are looking for ways to repel cats away from your yard, flower beds, or bird-feeding areas, please be aware that mothballs are not an acceptable repellant for use in your yard. Mothballs are extremely toxic, and are poison to cats and dogs. There are a variety of plants that you can plant in your yard that cats generally find unpleasant, such as lavender, geranium, and lemon-thyme. There is also a hybrid plant with the Latin name Coleus canin that is supposed to be very repulsive to cats, but there is no scientific evidence to prove that it will repel cats. The plant is a member of the mint family, and it goes by the common name of “scaredy cat plant.”
A safe substance you can use to repel animals like cats is a mixture of cayenne pepper, dry mustard, and flour. You can spread the mixture around in areas where cats, dogs, and other small mammals are not wanted. However, you would not want to use this mixture in your yard if you are trying to attract squirrels, chipmunks, or other small ground-dwelling rodents.