Saving urban birds ... by embarrassing cats?


We've written an amazing amount about birds for a design-focused eco lifestyle site. Like, an amazing amount. Just on the subject of how many birds are killed by wind turbines versus how many birds cats kill, you can find a nice fat archive of posts.

You might even say we're a little obsessed. Yet not as obsessed as one cat owner was. Nancy Brennan had a cat named George whom she described as a "dastardly bird-hunting cat."

Brennan was trying to figure out a way, any way, to keep George from his hunting proclivities, and she came upon the idea of the Birdsbesafe cat collar. Figuring out that songbirds have the ability to see bright colors especially well, Brennan constructed a soft, but brightly colored collar cover for George.

The results were impressive. An estimated 50 kills per year (George always brought his kills home) post-collar became just two to three bird deaths. The rainbow colors on the collar give songbirds – who have more rods and cones to see bright colors than humans do – enough time to recognize a predator and fly away.

While it looks like a homemade hair scrunchie, the Birdsbesafe collar has a couple of advantages. Its design allows cats to continue to groom, it can be wrapped around a quick-release collar, and it includes reflective edging.

Perhaps because cat hunting is a recognized worldwide bird survival problem (12 of 16 birds are estimated to be killed annually by each of the 60 million outdoor cats in the U.S. alone) there's even a scientific study showing the effectiveness of the Birdsbesafe.

St. Lawrence University researcher Dr. Susan Willson led a study in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. Overall, 87 percent of birds were protected when cats wore the collars. That means more than eight of 10 birds have time to get away when a cat is wearing the embarrassing, but effective gizmo.

The Birdsbesafe web site says that for success, the cat’s collar has to be visible to the bird, the bird must be a songbird whose eyes have the special anatomy to see bright colors especially well; and the bird must have time to and be able to fly away.

Birdsbesafe is a slam dunk for helping to conserve urban birds, it seems.

But the idea of songbirds being able to see the bright colors of the collar got me thinking. Wind power still has huge potential as a low-carbon energy source. But protests against the towers include the accusation that they kill birds, especially larger (non songbird) birds. Couldn't we find a way to put something on towers that keeps the bigger birds safe – some color or pattern that is especially relevant to them? What a windfall that would be ... for the birds and for us.

Saving urban birds ... by embarrassing cats?
Conventional wisdom says more birds get killed by cats than by wind turbines. Here's the way to cut down on urban bird deaths – would it work for wind turbines?

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