One of the biggest problems with having an outdoor aviary are stray cats. Sometimes they are just feral cats, other times they belong to a neighbor somewhere. In either case the problem isn't really my problem it's a problem with the cats owner. Either the owner simply doesn't care that the cat is damaging my yard and killing my birds or they just assume that since this is normal cat behavior everyone should just accept it. No matter where the cat comes from or what the owner may believe the truth is the cat owner is just as responsible for their animal as any dog or bird owner is responsible for their pet.
This predatory stalk and pounce behavior is simply a natural instinct and the cats that come creeping in at night aren't to blame, the cat owners are. However since cat owner who do allow their cats to roam free all night obviously don't care that they are at fault the problem as to what to do about the cat falls to me, the victim.
From the moment I put my finches in my outdoor aviaries I had cat problems. Not only were they climbing the wire, jumping on the wire and walking around the roofs they were terrifying my finches but they were also peeing and pooping all over my yard. The smell was horrible! I lost many finches to panic attacks when the cats would pounce on the wire. I spent many nights running out chasing cats away. The only result was sleep depravation for me, and a few more dead finches.
When running out and chasing the cats proved pointless I looked in to anti-cat sprays. Most were only good for a day and were designed for indoor or small area use. No chance those tiny bottles would be effective across my back yard and aviaries, plus they would have cost far too much.
After a little research I decided to invest in a humane line animal trap. I rented the first trap for a week and caught cat after cat after cat. None wore collars and all were quite vicious. All of them were taken to a new area to live. I had a few nights of peace and quiet before more cats found my yard to be a very inviting place to prowl. I bought the trap this time and again hauled off cat after cat. The cost of gas, bait and my time was proving to be too much.
My next plan was to get a nice big guard dog. I did more research and looked in to adopting a dog, buying a new dog or just finding one 'free to a good home'. The thought of buying dog food and vet bills was slightly worrying but not so much as the fear that the dog itself may damage my aviaries or spook the finches. Training a dog is something I've never done and I really have little experience working with dogs.
I was just about ready to invest in a dog when I was talking to another bird breeder friend of mine. He lives out in a more rural area and has had problems with everything from cats to mice to snakes and scorpions. His solution was Guinea Fowl. I had always noticed the rather unattractive birds running around his property but I figured they were pets or something. I hadn't realized that they were his guard dogs and pest eradicators.
It didn't take much convincing and I was driving back home with a pair of Guineas in my van. They were inexpensive, easy to feed, and would pretty much take care of themselves. Plus they were birds, a perfect choice for a bird enthusiast such as myself.
The first night they slept in the aviary catch to give them a chance to settle in. The next morning I opened the catch door to the back yard and let them explore their new home on their own. I wanted them to not only feel comfortable but to start thinking about my yard as their territory so I did my best to keep away from them.
Their first night in the yard was a true test of their abilities. I knew they would either chase the cats away or I'd find a bloody pile of feathers in the yard the next morning. It wasn't more than an hour after sunset when I first heard the Guineas alarm call. They came out of the shadows and pounced on the unsuspecting feline. In a moment of pure avian glory the terrified cat was chased across the yard and up the fence. The Guineas barked after that cat until they were sure it was gone. A few hours later another cat and more alarm calls followed by the sound of guinea feet running across my rock covered yard.
All night long they chased the cats away. For a while, nearly every 30 minutes I'd hear them call out and attack. I could even tell that the cats were attempting entry from several different locations simply my listening to where the alarm calls were coming from. Now keep in mind Guineas aren't quiet when they are attacking something and this endless parade of cats kept the Guineas and myself up most the night but it was worth it. My poor exhausted Guineas slept most of the following day. After a few nights the cats had learned their lesson and everyone could sleep peacefully through the night.
Occasionally a cat will still attempt to get in to my yard and each time the Guineas attack. My finches don't seem bothered one bit by the noise the Guineas make and the Guineas don't bother my finches either. These ugly birds were one of the best investments I've made when it comes to aviary security.
Now if I can only find a way to keep the doves from eating so much of the Guinea food.