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What to do when a cat finds (but doesn't harm) an owl during the day? (1 Viewer)

Tired

Well-known member
United States
(This is not a discussion about whether cats should be allowed out unsupervised. I'd love to keep the cat in, but it's not up to me.)

Today my father came to tell me that there was a bird in the yard being harassed by our cat, but it wasn't leaving. He thought it might have a nest. I went to look, and it didn't have a nest- it wasn't leaving because it was a screech owl and, I assume, didn't want to fly during the day. Unfortunately, it was still in reach of the cat, while the cat was too high in the tree to be grabbed brought inside.

The only thing I could think of doing was encouraging the owl to move so the cat couldn't reach it. I quickly got a broom, and when I moved the broom head near the owl, it took off and flew across the street. It wound up among some branches too thin for the cat to climb, but a couple of blue jays saw it and set up a ruckus. They've stopped by now. I assume either the owl left, or they gave up.

If this happens again, was that the right thing to do? I know being seen by jays isn't great for owls, and I know they have good reason not to fly during the day. I was thinking that it would be safer being possibly seen by other birds than being within reach of a cat, but didn't want to leave them alone for long enough to come and ask here, in case the cat jumped at it. I would hate for the owl to be attacked, and would also hate for the cat to lose an eye to the owl. I would have preferred to just shut the cat inside, but it wasn't in reach. And I could also see a situation where it's a stray cat, or a neighbor's cat, neither of which would likely tolerate a stranger grabbing them. If I shooed the cat away, it would probably come back as soon as I left, and I can't really stand near a random wild owl until nightfall.

So: if a cat has found an owl's roost, and I can't move the cat, what do I do?

Also, are owls intelligent enough to identify individual people? In other words, is this owl going to remember me as that one person who went after it with a stick? It was more focused on the cat than on me until I got close, but put its ear tufts up in a camouflage posture when I got too close, and I can't imagine it liked having a broom brandished at it. I think it lives in the area, and would hate for it to be extra-stressed if it spots me during the day, or I spot it.

DSCN1878.JPG
"Urgh, cats."

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"Urgh, humans."

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"Ooh, a toy."
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
United States
Actually Tired, I believe you did the right think for the moment. You saved that Owl from an attack by the cat.

There's no saying what the future will hold for you and the owl. Look at it this way, it may be eternally grateful to you for interfering at that moment.
I'm also wondering if the Owl was thinking of attacking the cat. Who knows so I would give yourself a pat on the back for doing what you felt was the right thing for that moment ;)
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
o: if a cat has found an owl's roost, and I can't move the cat, what do I do?
The cat’s got to eat so it will come in eventually. Sorry but the only sure way to protect birds roosting/nesting, is to keep cats out of yards during the pre/breeding season. Could you keep yours indoors until the end of the breeding season (or even take it out for walks on a on a long harness, that’s what I did with a cat years ago). if the owl is nesting and therefore around all day now, it will kill it for sure even if not directly but by inflicting an injury that will kill it off with an infection. If it doesn't attack the adult, it could certainly try to predate every single owlet before they fledged - it’s what cats do unfortunately.

In the first instance, a good start could be keeping the cat in just for 48 hours and see if the owl comes back - closely observe the tree from a distance, if it doesn’t return in that time, you could let the cat out again.

Great photos - and pretty cat too 😉
 

Tired

Well-known member
United States
I don't think there's a nest. I can check the tree for hollows, and watch to see if the cat comes back, but it seems early in the year for nesting. The cat wasn't sniffing around any particular spot, just watching the owl. Would a screech owl have established a nest already? If it was eyeing that spot as a potential nest, hopefully it'll realize the place isn't suitable.

I'd love to keep the cat in. She's not my cat, and I'm not the one letting her out. Unfortunately, she's also a very sensitive cat who doesn't like being touched, so any sort of harness training would be particularly difficult, and she's very active. I haven't been able to convince my parents to try keeping her in, because of how upset she gets if she's kept in for very long.
(...which is because nobody plays with her while she's inside, and she gets bored.)
You'd think the vet bills from when she gets in fights with other cats, or the periodic dead things left on our porch, would convince them that we should at least try. But they've had cats all their lives without any dying from going outside (thanks to luck), so that's not helping anything.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
You may find this helpful

I think it could be eyeing out possible nesting sites (they don’t actually build nests as you gathered but use existing holes) however, if you have not heard it calling and there is only one around, nothing would have happened yet. Alternatively if it is determined to keep coming back, you could actually encourage it to nest safely by erecting a specialised Screech Owl box high in the tree - these are designed deep with small holes to keep predators out.

I definitely would not be waving sticks at it or trying to scare it etc, you could panic it and it could fly into a window or into a passing truck etc. I would take a garden hose and aim it high at the cat - I know it’s not nice but it would chase the cat away in a situation where this ever happened again.

Good luck with it though- I know from reading your previous posts on Birdforum, that owl couldn’t have a better advocate for it’s welfare than you.
 

Tired

Well-known member
United States
We'd been thinking about putting up a Screech owl box. They don't by any chance eat birds as large as starlings, do they? A flock of starlings seem to have taken up residence in our rosebushes, and pretty as they are, I don't want them around- starlings are invasive, and destructive to native birds, in my area. If a Screech owl might scare them away, or even eat some, that would be ideal. I think we have a few spots the cat can't reach, but the difficulty would be us getting it up there! We also have an old, decaying tree that has several cavities in it, but it also has a large colony of ants in it, so I'm not sure any bird would like to set up shop there.

I'll try to aim shooing efforts at the cat, if this happens again. If it's a stray I can't just catch and carry off, I suppose I can try and scare it away. I'd rather scare the cat off than let it and the owl hurt each other.

Must say, I didn't exactly like the circumstances, but seeing a screech owl up close (closeish, it was a good 8 feet off the ground) was interesting. They're so small. I wonder if any zoos near me have one I can take a prolonged look at, without scaring it?

Thank you, I try my best. I'm not always sure what to do with a given situation, but I can at least take a swing at things. Though I do sometimes have some missing information. Last year I saw a blind snake among a swarm of invasive ants, and plucked it up before the ants could kill it- only to realize that it was completely unbitten. It turns out, blind snakes have scales which are so tightly fit together that ant jaws and stingers can't get between the gaps. They're completely immune to ant bites. Whoops. I had forgotten, in the initial worry of "small animal is covered in aggressive ants", that they actually go into ant nests to steal the larvae sometimes.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
A recent study from China (sorry, I forget where I read it ( BBC? Birdguides ? The Guardian ? probably one of those three)) showed that cats that wore a simple brightly coloured collar were much less successful in killing birds than non collar - wearing moggies, their kill success re. rodents was however unaffected ( because hunting them mostly nocturnal) . A collar with a tinkling bell was no more effective than a bright coloured no bell collar. Could be a compromise for your parents, the cat will be more visible to motorists but also to the birds, a win win situation perhaps.
 

Sangahyando

Well-known member
A recent study from China (sorry, I forget where I read it ( BBC? Birdguides ? The Guardian ? probably one of those three)) showed that cats that wore a simple brightly coloured collar were much less successful in killing birds than non collar - wearing moggies, their kill success re. rodents was however unaffected ( because hunting them mostly nocturnal) . A collar with a tinkling bell was no more effective than a bright coloured no bell collar. Could be a compromise for your parents, the cat will be more visible to motorists but also to the birds, a win win situation perhaps.
Makes sense, since birds tend to have more acute colour vision than mammals.

We'd been thinking about putting up a Screech owl box. They don't by any chance eat birds as large as starlings, do they? A flock of starlings seem to have taken up residence in our rosebushes, and pretty as they are, I don't want them around- starlings are invasive, and destructive to native birds, in my area. If a Screech owl might scare them away, or even eat some, that would be ideal. I think we have a few spots the cat can't reach, but the difficulty would be us getting it up there! We also have an old, decaying tree that has several cavities in it, but it also has a large colony of ants in it, so I'm not sure any bird would like to set up shop there.
Theoretically, they could eat starlings. From what little I know about the species, they seem to be capable of taking fairly large prey relative to body size. If starlings are locally abundant, chances are the owl will occasionally try to nab one.
 
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