East Sussex cat owners warned after attacks on baby birds

Owners of cats in East Sussex have been encouraged by a wildlife rescue boss to keep an eye on their pets in order to save baby birds.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 11:10 am

East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) deal with between 20 and 40 rescues a day with cats being the most common ‘predator’.

Founder and operations director for WRAS Trevor Weeks MBE said, “Most of the calls are predator attacked youngsters, either nestlings which have jumped out of their nests too early and can’t fly or fledglings which have left the nest and still trying to fly.

“We only record them as a cat attack if the caller has actually seen a cat injure the bird.”

Trevor Weeks MBE from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service. Picture from Peter Cripps. SUS-181128-143658003
Trevor Weeks MBE from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service. Picture from Peter Cripps. SUS-181128-143658003

According to Mr Weeks, cats are the leading cause of wildlife casualties that go through WRAS with more than 700 incidents last year, although the founder said it is not the cat’s fault.

He also explained how to identify birds at different stages of their life in order to help them.

“There is a lot of confusion about what is a fledgling or a nestling or baby bird and whether they should or should not be touched.

“A baby bird is one which has visible skin and covered in fluff, a nestling will have some proper adult like feathers along with fluff over its body.

“They become a fledgling once they have lost virtually all of their fluff and have all of their adult flat feathers.”

Mr Weeks said if someone finds a baby or nestling bird out of a nest then it is in need of rescuing.

Mr Weeks said, “The parents can’t return it to the nest, they are just not capable of doing so. However, a fledgling will be one which is learning to fly.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that when most birds first leave the nest, they can’t fly. They need to build up the muscle strength in their wings before they can fly properly.

“When they leave the nest, their parents will encourage them to scatter into different gardens or different parts of the same garden and hide. They will fly between them encouraging them to fly.

“Sad as it is some are taken by predators and that is a natural phenomenon, and one we don’t generally step in as they are part of the food chain for other species.”

In regards to what can be done to help, Mr Weeks is encouraging cat owners to keep their pets inside for 24 hours if they have seen fledglings in their garden.

Mr Weeks said, “We would also advise people keep cats in at night time from an hour before dark until a hour after sunrise.

“Most of their victims they don’t take home, so most owners are unaware of what their cat is catching whilst out.

“I know this is controversial, and people may claim I am anti-cat by saying this, but I’m not. I’ve always loved cats and love them as much as I love all other animals.

“I appreciate that [for] some cats it would be detrimental [to] their welfare if they were kept inside for more than 24 hours due to stress, but many others are perfectly fine being kept in for a short period of time, despite their objections, and will save a lot of lives in the process.”