Monday, February 29, 2016

Suet -- Is It Really Safe For Birds?

by Catherine Greenleaf

Is suet really safe for wild birds? That depends on what brand or type you buy. Did you know that some brands of suet contain Red Dye #40, FD and C Yellow Dyes #5 and #6, Blue Dye #1, sodium benzoate, sucrose, tartaric acid, and other artificial flavorings? In addition, many brands of suet contain ingredients that are genetically modified. Some even contain high-fructose corn syrup (the same holds true for commercially prepared hummingbird nectar).

While not many studies have been performed involving GMO foods and birds, there have been a number of GMO studies performed on rats and mice. These animals, fed GMO food products, developed damaged internal organs, abnormal tumors, decreased fertility, and increased infant mortality.

Can the bird enthusiast avoid suet with GMO food products? Not likely, since 85 percent of all corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are now genetically modified. In addition, there is no law requiring companies to reveal if their products are genetically modified.

One way to avoid some of the dyes and artificial flavorings is to visit a local slaughterhouse and buy your own bags of rendered beef fat. However, you may still end up with suet that has been tainted by hormones and antibiotics.

There is one company that claims to make organic suet. You can contact the company at

Copyright 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Keeping Cats and Birds Safe -- Catios


By Catherine Greenleaf

Did you know that 2.4 billion birds are killed by outdoor cats in the U.S. every year? Did you also know that 50 million outdoor cats are killed annually in this country due to a number of causes? Perhaps it’s time for birdwatchers and cat lovers to call a truce and work together to end what is, in effect, a holocaust of innocent animals.

Recent joint research by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service revealed that outdoor cats are the number one source of mortality for birds in the U.S. and Canada.

But it’s important to realize how much suffering is involved, not just for birds, but for cats. Cats allowed outdoors are hit by cars and trucks, poisoned and shot by irate neighbors, trapped in sheds where they starve to death, caught in leg-hold traps, attacked by loose dogs and eaten alive by wild animals like fisher cats. Outdoor house cats also contract feline leukemia (which is often fatal) from other cats outside, particularly from feral cat colonies.

If there are so many dangers for cats that venture outside, then why do cat owners allow their beloved pets outdoors? Cat owners are understandably often caught in a dilemma. They are concerned about adding variety to their cat’s lives and want to give their cats an outdoor experience in which they can receive fresh air, sunshine and stimulation. However, they are also concerned about keeping their cats safe while outside as well as keeping wildlife safe.

A good compromise may be a catio. What is a catio? A catio is a specially built outdoor enclosure for cats. Much like a small, screened-in porch, a catio allows cats to lounge in the sun on carpeted shelves and hammocks, play with toys, run through tunnels, climb up perches and scratching posts -- all within the safe confines of an enclosure.

Kits available by mail can be completed in a single weekend. Catios can range in price from $100 to several thousand for the more palatial enclosures. Some catios are freestanding and portable. Others attach to your house or back fence. Many catio owners install a human-sized door so they can sit inside the catio to enjoy their felines’ company.

According to the Humane Society, catios offered by CatsOnDeck are made of panels that snap together and can be fashioned into a five-level fun house for cats. Safe Kitty Company offers a 36-foot-square, three-sided catio of wood that can be built so your cat has access to his outdoor play room via a window. Purrfect Penthouse offers a 15 foot by 8 foot enclosure complete with trees to climb and a fancy litterbox. Or you can contact Just4Cats, Catio Designs or Catio Spaces to buy a set of plans for $25-$50 to build your own.

“Catios are a great alternative,” says Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs at the American Bird Conservancy. A catio can have a dramatic positive impact upon the lives of birds. And the benefit to cats is incredibly positive, too. The average outdoor cat, especially in New Hampshire and Vermont, is lucky to make it to age 2 or 3, while an indoor cat that gets to use a catio can live to a ripe old age of 15.

It’s important to understand that when cats attack birds they transmit Pasturella bacteria into the bloodstream of the bird. Pasturella exposure is 100 percent fatal to birds unless the bird is treated promptly with antibiotics. The safe window for treatment is usually 12-24 hours. After that, the Pasturella quickly replicates in the bird’s immune system and overwhelms and kills the bird by the 72-hour mark. This is why putting a cat-injured bird without treatment back into the wild results in a guaranteed fatality within three days. Cat bites also result in a rupture of internal organs and internal hemorrhaging – both of which often result in death. Swift action on your part in getting an injured bird to a wildlife rehabilitator can prevent a fatality.

In addition, a catio can help maintain good neighbor relations. Cats allowed to roam outdoors have a tendency to defecate in vegetable gardens, treating the raised beds as if they were giant litter boxes. These feces can carry Toxoplasmosis, which can make people very sick. Toxoplasmosis exposure can result in miscarriage, fetal deformities, blindness and memory loss, according to Sizemore.

The bottom line is that cats are not expendable items. They are cherished pets with unique personalities that deserve your care and protection. Birds deserve the same care and protection as well. With a little compromise, the rewards can be great – for all concerned.

Catherine Greenleaf is the director of St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital in Lyme, N.H. If you have an injured bird, please call 795-4850 or go to

Copyright 2015