Cats on the prowl and hawks hunting can definitely be a problem for you when you set out bird feeders. The first thing to remember is that birds are smart and recognize threats when they see them. So, the best thing you can do is give the birds a chance to see anything that would threaten them.
Placement of bird feeders is critical. We recommend you place your bird feeders 5-6 feet from a shrub or a brush pile. This distance keeps most cats from being able to pounce from the shrub directly onto birds feeding. The shrub or brush pile is close enough for the birds to dive into if the attack comes from the hawk diving for them. Remember to keep the shrubs trimmed so that no branches hang directly over your feeder.
Give the birds perches so that they can safely look for cats before coming into the bird feeder. These perches should not be directly over the bird feeders. We don’t want to give the cat a chance to pounce from the perch. Small deciduous trees whose branches are 10-12 feet from the feeding station work will work. In the southwest we have used stalks from agave plants. After the stalks have fallen to the ground we have used rebar driven into the ground and wired the stalk to the rebar.
If the cat problem persists you may have to consider a fence. We all know that cats can go over or around fences, but the purpose is to give the birds time to see the cat. Try using a green vinyl coated fence with a 2″x3″ mesh. Birds as large as Thrashers and Robins can fly through this mesh. Put a section of the fencing in the path the cat attacks from. Try to force the cat into a path that can clearly be seen by the birds.
If you have a hawk, try tying surveyor’s tape across the path the hawk prefers. All of the Accipiter family of hawks like to fly low through the trees. The tape forces them into a new path giving the birds time recognize the threat. Surveyor’s tape can be found in most hardware stores. It comes in brightly colored vinyl about an inch wide.
I have had people report other ways of solving the problem. Shaking cans with coins while charging out your door or spraying the cat with water. These techniques may work at the moment and are based on the fact that you can see the cat before it is too late. I can’t say how well they would work on a long term basis. It is best to give the birds a chance to see the danger and protect themselves. You may want to learn more about attracting birds with these articles.