Guinevere is a typical cat. She patrols her yard and keeps other cats at bay. She chases wild birds in the yard. She hunts at night. Guinevere followed her instincts, the way most animals do. The question I had was: Could I live in the back house behind the home where Guinevere reigned supreme and not spend half my time wondering if she was terrorizing my birds? Eventually my question was answered: Guinevere was an exceptional cat, and she quickly learned that these birds were pets and she was not to mess with them. My experience taught me that SOME cats do have the ability to live in relative harmony with pet birds. Other experiences (a neighborhood cat that had to be chased off with a hose at 2 am on a few occasions) showed me that some cats are ruled by their instincts and will never be appropriate in the same home as pet birds.
At first I realized that Guinevere (right photo) was shocked by the slow but obvious increase of my flock. She seemed a bit insulted by the chastisements and stern commands to stay away from the cages. Much of my aviary was outside where I could not prevent her from getting around the birds. However, an uncanny transformation began to occur. Guinevere seemed to “understand” that she was not to touch, harass, or otherwise intimidate my birds. She, in fact, came to act as a sort of guard for the birds, keeping other neighborhood cats away. We used to joke that Guinevere bragged to the other neighborhood cats about her “collection” of birds as she nonchalantly groomed herself: “Yes, these are all mine. Now run along you silly beasts. Go chase a wild bird or something. Don’t bother me. I’m busy watching my flock.”
The most amazing thing was that on two occasions Guinevere actually saved birds. In one incident a baby parakeet had managed to escape from an outside cage. It was not quite fully flighted (its flights were coming back in), so it was quite vulnerable. Guinevere sat on the ground and watched the bird–not in predator stance–and meowed insistently until I came out to see what all the fuss was. I came over and rescued the bird. It was an impressive act for a cat! On another occasion, my neighbor’s daughter had not properly secured her green cheek conure Jake’s (left photo) cage and he was wandering up the back stairs of their house to find her (he was obsessed with her and just had to go find her). As her mom was coming out the back door she went to step down and Guinevere ran in front of her legs, meowing insistently. She looked down and realized Jake was there. If it weren’t for Guinevere, she might have stepped on Jake!
The most difficult part of having outside aviaries is that you have little control over neighbors’ cats. Some cat people tend to think their animals should be allowed to roam freely, defecating on neighbors’ lawns (which, incidentally washes into the ocean here in Southern California, causing bacterial contamination of the ocean during the rainy season), killing mourning doves and leaving their remains scattered across lawns, and terrorizing birds in aviaries. In these situations you can’t really train the cat directly. Indirect training, in the form of water, is usually the best deterrent. Frankly, if people don’t want their cats sprayed with water to send them out of a yard where they are terrorizing someone else’s pets, they should keep their cat indoors and take personal responsibility for their animal.