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SLU professor seeking cats for bird study

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CANTON — Susan K. Willson, County Route 27, believes she’s discovered a stylish way to keep outdoor cats from killing backyard birds.

She’s launched a study to prove that brightly-colored fabric collars for cats are effective at keeping felines away from feathered friends.

“Cats kill all kinds of birds,” said Ms. Willson, an associate biology professor at St. Lawrence University. “The ones I’m most concerned about are the ones declining in this region, such as the grassland nesting birds.”

Regional birds that have become scarcer include Eastern meadowlarks, savannah sparrows and bobolinks, she said.

She wants to include 50 outdoor cats in her study and needs about 20 more to participate.

The fabric collars are distributed online by www.birdsbesafe.com. They cost about $15 each and will be provided at no charge to participants through a small grant Ms. Willson obtained from SLU.

“I’d like to get some scientific evidence that quantifies whether the collar is effective and how effective it is,” Ms. Willson said. “If it gets marketed nationally, it could save millions of birds a year.”

Birds have excellent color vision and the brightly-colored collars allow cats to be more easily seen by birds and other animals, according to www.birdsbesafe.com.

Cats participating in the study will remain outdoors without the collar for the first four weeks of the study which she hopes to start early in September. They’ll wear the collar for the next four weeks to see if fewer birds are killed.

Owners will be asked to bag the killed birds, date them and freeze them. Bird can be dropped off on campus or Ms. Willson will schedule a time to pick them up. Besides birds, she’ll collect other animals killed by cats participating in the study such as chipmunks, shrews, voles and mice.

Concerned about the number of birds her own cats were killing, Mrs. Willson searched for a solution and found the collars online about six months ago. She purchased the collars for her two outdoor cats.

She has been impressed by the results and wants to see if others have similar outcomes. Ultimately, the goal is to get the collars promoted on a national level by having scientific evidence showing they work.

Her “killer cat,” named Gorilla used to bring home about one bird a week, she said. Since getting the collar, he’s only killed one.

“Keeping cats inside is not practical in every situation,” Ms. Willson said.

She said her cats have not resisted wearing the quick-release collars.

“My cats could care less and they look cute,” Ms. Willson said.

Interested participants can contact Ms. Willson at swillson@stlawu.edu or 566-9588.

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