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

“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 more scarce include Eastern meadowlarks, savannah sparrows and bobolinks, she said.

Ms. Willson 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.

Participating cats will remain outdoors without the collar for the first four weeks of the study, which Ms. Willson hopes to start in early September. The cats then will wear the collar for the next four weeks to see if fewer birds are killed.

Cat owners will be asked to bag the killed birds, date them and freeze them. Birds can be dropped off on campus, or Ms. Willson will schedule a time to pick them up. Also collected will be other animals killed by the participating cats, such as chipmunks, shrews, voles and mice.

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

She said she has been impressed by the results. Ultimately, the goal is to get the collars promoted on a national level by having scientific evidence showing that they work, she said.

Gorilla, her “killer cat,” used to bring home about one bird a week, Ms. Willson said. Since wearing the collar, he’s killed only 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,” she said.

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

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