Wednesday, 8 August 2007

CATWatch Review – shirls gardenwatch

Writing this diary/blog I have discovered a high percentage of gardeners love their cats. However, not all do for a variety of reasons. I have to be honest here and say I am a gardener that doesn’t. Fouling is one aspect that bothers me especially when my children were young. Although much of my garden now has gravel mulches and a lot of ground covering plants, which does help, I still want to protect its young occupants – our visiting birds. The young birds are particularly vulnerable and in the last week I have found two dead greenfinch juveniles – hence my decision now to do my review of the CATWatch deterrent which I have been using for seven months now.

How does it work? Well, it is a motion sensor that claims to detect movement up to 12 metres away and emits a high pitched sound (silent to humans) specifically at a cat's hearing frequency. The visiting cat will then learn to avoid this area. It is placed via a spike into the ground and can be used with mains power or one 9 volt battery – I have used a battery. I have to add at the time I bought mine it was the only unit that the RSPB have tested and recommended.

What I have found is that in the winter when my garden is more open the unit appeared to work very well. Although in saying that, I was changing the battery after only a month – but it wasn’t the cats that were necessarily setting it off. As the blackbirds and other birds ran around the ground they set it off – it detected their body heat. I would gather from that any cats getting close would go no further – so no cats were seen. However, I did see a cat walking by the day after I put the unit out and it got a lot closer than 12 meters before it set the sensor off – a red light also comes on and I spotted it from my window. I know it states that it cannot work through solid objects but this area was relatively clear.

During summer when the plants are in full growth, as you can see above, the cats have more spots to hide and pounce so I have been moving my unit around. It is still a small area I am covering with this unit. Now I have found it is not so effective – as the dead birds will confirm. But then again I have a lot of young birds visiting and many are surviving too so I am still happy with my purchase.

I have used approximately five batteries since January. After I found the last dead bird I went out to check the battery and noticed although the light came on when I approached it was sluggish so I decided to replace it in this instance. When I opened up the unit I found wet earth in the battery compartment – more than usual. But that was not all I found as you will see in the photo below.


Common earwigs were crawling about the battery compartment – I had a very unpleasant few minutes tapping them out! There had to be about 25 of them. I looked up my book to identify them and it looks like debris from the feeders might have attracted them. This is the first time I have ever found them in the unit – it is usually in an area covered with bark chippings. When changing the battery I also noticed that the screen on the front of my unit has unusual break so I hope my unit is not faulty. It appears to be working fine.

The big question – would I recommend it? Well there are many deterrents like this one, less expensive too, but what I like about this one is that it is training the visiting cats to use another route. I also feel comfortable in using a unit that the RSPB both tested and recommends. From my windows I am unable to see many of the birds that are on the ground now. I feel sad when I see dead birds in my garden but in using this unit I do see fewer cats in this area, none in the winter, so I do feel it has helped greatly.

Update: August 22nd :
After finding a number of dead birds in my garden, with two greenfinch juveniles seen leaving in the mouth of the same cat, I felt my CATWatch unit has developed a fault. Yesterday I returned it to my local RSPB, where purchased, and it was exchanged with no problem. I feel much happier to have another unit working again. Unfortunately the cat in question was still on the prowl! I took one extra step – a trip up to my local garden centre for another product. ‘Silent Roar’ I used almost ten years ago. It is environmentally-friendly and contains no artificial chemicals. Silent Roar is pellets soaked in real essence of lion dung, dried and sterilised. As cats are territorial, it is claimed that even the bravest will retreat with the smell of a lion. I scattered the pellets under the trees and plants where I have seen the cat hide and also at entrance points to the area that has the problem. Today I did see the cat in the distance, near my hedge, so I hope my measures are working now.

23 comments:

A wildlife gardener said...

Hi, shirl! Since we live in the countryside and our garden borders a field, our cats (Monster and Jaffa)are here to catch mice, which they do. They often catch voles and a shrew now and again too. They never wander from our garden, as it is large enough to hunt in. When they were younger they did catch a young bird, now and again.

Of the three cats who belong to a neighbour, but who choose to live in our barn, two of the agile ones catch birds sometimes, the third is too old and frail.

I feed the stray cats. My husband feeds the birds, (feeders too high up for the cats to reach) each day throughout the year.

I feel that birds have wings to fly away as their protection, and not all the baby birds can survive or there would not be enough food. It's part of nature that some will not survive.

We have been members of the RSPB for 42 years now, as we love birds, and spend a lot of time bird-watching, and the garden was designed for them as much as all the other wildlife which comes to visit and/or live here.

So, I feel I've got the balance right. But I can understand your worry and the fact that you don't want cats in your garden.

Many gardeners have cats...Titchie, and Geoff Hamilton had several too...and they were bird-lovers and nature-lovers like me. It's a thorny problem.

I hope your gadget works for you :)

shirl said...

Hi again, Wildlife Gardener

When I began to meet garden bloggers online and read comments on their posts I knew reviewing my CATWatch device would be tricky. Thank-you for your comments :-)

I bought it the first week of January after I had a female Blackcap join the male in my garden and as they don’t usually spend winters in Scotland I thought that I should protect them. The food I had put out in my garden, an RSPB fat cake, brought them there and I felt responsible for their safety. If the birds came to my garden and I had no feeders I would feel quite differently.

Like your husband I have always taken care to put feeders out of reach of cats too. Unfortunately the birds do run around the ground too – but I love to see them there :-). This is where my device works well.

The balance of nature is a fine one and I understand that. I also understand that cats are seen more than just pets to their owners – I respect that too. I have friends and family that all love their cats.

However as I am writing a gardenwatch, and at this moment using this device, I thought I would share this with anyone who is interested in it - I am sure many are.

Yes, I agree it is a very thorny problem :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Shirl,

Lisa (here in California) is my neighbor and even though she is only about 45 ft away, I sometimes amuse myself viewing her garden through "blog eyes". I (obviously) followed her link to your garden blog and have been pleased to see your fondness for the birds as well....garden & birds, well sure right?

I noted your cat deterent device and wondered if you've ever seen the unit that uses a motion sensor but turns on a sprinkler for a brief time! I'd imagine it would scare the bejezzes out of the cats and would water the flowers at the same time. I've seen them offered here in our area to chase off the deer...a very different interloper to gardens in our locale.

Steve

A wildlife gardener said...

Actually, shirl, the last idea from anonymous,is a great way of scaring cats from gardens. They hate water...so maybe that would be the solution, especially over the summer months when the birds are rearing their young...but if kept in place all year round, it would deter them from coming at all :)

shirl said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. Does Lisa know you have ‘blog eyes’? That must quite interesting as you say – she will be selecting what to show and you will see what else is there. Scale will be the biggest thing.

Scale is an issue for me in my garden - it is quite small. It is for that reason I didn’t consider the sprinkler cat deterrent. Thanks - yes I had heard of it. I am only protecting the area where my feeders are – food drops and birds are then feeding on the ground. I myself would be caught with a sprinkler and would imagine the birds would be scared off too! I have just looked at one sprinkler product on a UK website and it claims the RSPB recommends it too. I have never seen it in their shops or website though.

My purchase was made in a hurry at my local RSPB shop and with great excitement – sounds like I don’t have a life! Anyway, when the pair of blackcaps that came to my garden it really was an unusual sighting in winter – it should be in Africa! I had a comment from a bird club congratulating me when the male came so when the female came my first thoughts were - could they actually stay and nest in my garden!

If you had a large open garden I would imagine a water sprinkler would perhaps work well – successfully chasing off deer with one is an interesting idea. Do you know if it would actually work? I would wonder if the water pressure would have enough impact on their skin to bother them. Cats are generally known to be frightened of water but deer will happily walk through rivers won’t they?

shirl said...

Hi again, Wildlife Gardener

Thanks, I agree with your comment - I was aware cats were afraid of water. Although I have a small garden packed with foliage plants at the moment and I don’t think the sensors would work effectively through them. This unit it would be good perhaps for a larger more open area though.

A wildlife gardener said...

Something else I've seen, shirl, in all the garden centres where we live are packets of lion dung, which are claimed to be very successful. You sprinkle it around the perimeter of your garden, and anywhere else you don't want the cats to go. Might be worth investigating. I fully appreciate the trouble you have gone to for the birdlife in your garden, and I can understand the frustration if you have neighbours' cats coming along and helping themselves to the young birds.

Another thought...what about a child's water pistols left filled in appropriate places to scare them off? sometimes it's the simple measure that often works.

shirl said...

Hi again, Wildlife Gardener

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

As so many garden bloggers love cats in their gardens I had no wish to list all the measures I have taken over the years. But as you are kindly offering suggestions I will say what I have tried. Yes, it is the simplest of measures that are the most effective.

In my first garden, a new house, I used strips of orange peel directly on the soil next to my very young rooted alpines – the cats were digging them up. That worked a treat but only in the areas where they were and whilst the peel was fairly fresh. It looked a little unsightly but as I had sent away to a specialist for this collection of alpines I wanted to protect them.

I then read that as cats were also afraid of snakes and that small strips of garden hose placed around might keep them away. I found a piece of black hose and cut it up into 30cm strips - but I wasn’t convinced that really worked.

I was then told that a good solution would to get a cat of our own! That really wasn’t an option to consider - apologies to all cat lovers here :-). I did however purchase a black cat, made of metal with marbles for eyes and placed that in my borders – not sure that worked either.

Next, I heard that cats were afraid of water and kept a bucket of water at my back door – just in case. I will be honest and say I did use it – it was a friend that had cats that suggested it. Yes, it did work and they stayed away for a few days.

Then, when pregnant, I started wearing gloves for gardening and, with the exception of pruning, have continued to do so since.

A few years on, and in my garden now, when my daughters were young they had a wooden Wendy house to play in and we cut into our grass to make a very small Potager for them. There they sowed and harvested a few flowers and veg. It was then that I used ‘Roar’ the dried granular lion dung to stop cats fouling in their garden. I have to say, I don’t know why but I felt uncomfortable using this. However, I wanted to protect the ground that my daughters were digging in – although I then bought gloves for them too. I think that worked for a while.

With young children I had less time to garden so began using mulches - that reduced the fouling. Less fouling made me more tolerant of the cats passing through my garden.

Then my garden began attracting the birds. My first instincts were to open my window to chase away visiting cats. That didn’t always work. So, I remembered again that cats were supposed to be afraid of snakes – and hissed when I opened my window. Gosh, that really worked! It continues to be my first response – only today I used this method as I was responding to Steve’s comment! A cat was making its way through the foliage to hide and watch the birds at my feeders.

I cannot protect the birds when I am not at home, or looking out my window when they pass through, and that is when I considered the CATWatch device I have now.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve again....(I'm afraid to get a real "blog ID", for fear I'll get hooked on this interchange.)

I had to confess my blog voyuerness to Lisa today when she came over to the house. We both had a chuckle at the idea.

As for the motion-sensor-sprinkler idea?....I have no experience with it and don't know much about its ability to be tuned down so as not to be set off by something as small as birds.

I do know that it is not the pressure of the water on the deer, its just the mere startling effect of coming on while they are browsing.

As we say over here in the Colonies, "That's my two cents worth".


Steve

shirl said...

Hi again, Steve

Nice to hear from you again – I understand how it goes re blog comments. I enjoy the feedback no matter how brief.

I smiled at your confession to Lisa. As I don’t use my full name and have told only a very small number of people of my blog I have absolutely no idea if any of my neighbours look in on my garden :-)

As we say over here in Scotland ‘Haste ye back’.

Birdy Trish said...

What an interesting blog. I've started a blog but don't know how to get photos on yet. Did you find it easy to get footage from your video to computer. Your photographs are really lovely. I envy the photos you took of the birds feeding. I aren't a gardener I am a bird feeder!

I've a problem with cats killing birds in the garden. A stray cat came to us a few years ago. It started to kill birds. I hate seeing dead birds. In the end I had to give the cat to the RSPCA for them to find it a new home. I live in the countryside and think there was just too much temptation for this stray cat. We've got another cat killing birds now. I don't see it often but I see the dead birds it leaves behind.

I'll certainly look at buying the cat deterrant you use. My blog is just writing at the moment. Am trying to find somewhere that does a course on video edition.
my blog is http://birdtablenews.com/
Thanks for writing such an interesting blog. Trisha

shirl said...

Hello Trisha,

Thanks for your kind comments. Re photos and video processing if you would like to email me it might be easier to explain.

I am sorry you are also seeing dead birds in your garden – it is upsetting I know. However, as a species, birds they have probably evolved to allow for losses and that is why they lay so many eggs.

Equally cats are hunters, it is in their nature, but they too come to sticky ends often being knocked down by cars – upsetting for their owners too. I have just received a disturbing mail from a reader whose cat was deliberately poisoned to keep it out of a garden. I am appalled at that.

My device was purchased to protect a new species in my garden – one that has now been recorded visiting Scotland during the winter months. I don’t feel it is harming the cats – the RSPB would never have tested and recommend it otherwise.

I look forward to following your blog on visiting garden birds – maybe you might become a gardener too?

Frustrated! said...

Hi Shirl

I happened upon a site selling CATWatch and wondered if it was any good. I found glowing testimonials (quoted as "reviews"), but I wondered how independent they were on the sites selling the device. So it was good to find your independent and detailed review. Thanks you.

CATWatch does seem expensive for such a simple device. Infrared movement detectors and ultrasonic sound emitters are not expensive components. It gets through batteries rather fast too. The optional extra mains adapter is more expensive than the cheapest cordless phones that come with mains chargers!

I wonder if the similar looking device at http://www.deteracat.co.uk/ultrasonic_cat_deterrent_system.htm only just over half the price would do as well.

As you may have guessed by now, we too are plagued by other people's cats. We have several neighbours with cats and none of them seem to keep their cats in even at night when they often make the most frightful din -- they sometimes do it during the day too. One neighbour even goes away (they have two houses) and seems to leave the cat with only access to a conservatory. I suppose it relies on other cat-owning neighbours for food. Even when that neighbour and family are home, the cat seems to spend little time there.

Why do they have a pet that spends so little time with them and just to inflict it on their unwilling neighbours?? But they seem as unaware of the annoyance they cause their neighbours as smokers did a generation ago smoking over other diners and so on.

Some years ago, I bought a spray (Cat Off) at a garden centre but it proved useless. I contacted the RSPB and they suggested another spray called Renardine. (It was presumably before the RSPB knew about CATWatch.) Renardine was quite expensive and didn't seem very effective, except in the immediate, heavily treated area.

Last year I had to deal with about 14 to 16 dead birds in the garden, though this year it has been far fewer, despite several birds nesting in or very near our garden.

I think it is up to pet owners to do their best to ensure their pets don't annoy neighbours by:

· prowling around their gardens
· leaving nasty messes behind that the garden owners are left to clear up
· making an awful din caterwauling, especially at night with other cats
· killing the birds in their gardens, leaving the bodies to be clear up by the neighbours.

We also have frogs and other wildlife that cats destroy.

I realize that these are things that cats do naturally and they are not to blame. It's the owners that seem unaware of or don't care about the annoyance they cause.

If they can't prevent their pets being such nuisances, they shouldn't have them. It shouldn't have to be up to the neighbours of the pet owners to have to buy sprays and electronic devices to control the pets! How would they like it if I let my children wander regularly through their gardens uninvited, make messes in their gardens, kill the wildlife in their gardens and scream outside their houses at night?

I hope CATWatch continues to work for you.

As you can tell, I'm

Frustrated!

shirl said...

Hi there, Frustrated!

Where to start? Firstly I’m glad you found my review interesting. I chose CATWatch as it was recommended by the RSPB and have no idea if cheaper units would work as well.

I completely sympathise with your plight to stop cats entering your garden. I really don’t know what I could say here except that I also know of cat owners who do keep their cats inside during the time when young birds fledge. Cats are only doing what comes instinctively to them, as you say, but perhaps the answer is that all cats wear bells on their collars to let the birds and other wildlife get a sporting chance.

I really am sorry to hear you are having such an awful time with neighbours’ cats. I have recently had hedgehops roaming my garden at night and they too have left mess. The hedgehog is wild and the cat domestic but both are still animals so why should I chase one and not the other? Good question!

Anonymous said...

Hi shirl,
Why is it that owners of dogs are required by law to collect and dispose of any foulings their dogs make, and yet us gardeners are expected to not only put up with other peoples cats fouling our gardens, but we are expected to go to great personal expense to try and stop them.

Anonymous said...

i dont think anyone has tested this item around, younger people im 22 and my neighbour has one and it drives me mad as i can hear it going off every day and night, but my auntie and uncle can not hear it at all. its a horrible hight pitched sound that last around five seconds and then stops.

shirl said...

Hi there Anonymous (JUL5) – Yes, it does feel a bit unjust that we are left with cat fouling in our own private spaces. Although cat owners do have this problem too with other visiting cats… I’ve seen the fouling myself in a neighbour’s garden.

Cats I guess are regarded as being wild as well as domestic (unlike dogs) and as such they don’t come under the same laws. I agree that in order to deter cats from our gardens we shouldn’t have to go to great expense but if the cat is regarded by law as wild then it is not much different than the pesky squirrel which can actually destroy personal property. However, if you have a problem of cat fouling it is a very unpleasant problem to deal with and I am sorry to hear that. For myself, I always wear gardening gloves.

shirl said...

Hi there Anonymous JUL8 – I hear what you’re saying… no pun intended. As with all products if there is a market for them then you can be sure that there will be more than one manufacturer out there. The unit I refer to in this posting I choose as it was the only one at the time that the RSPB had thoroughly tested.

I have teenage daughters younger than yourself and yes they can hear my unit but it doesn’t bother them in any way. However, it doesn’t go off unless something passes by it at a certain reading of heat source. It doesn’t go off all the time and nor does it last as long as five seconds when it does. I don’t use it all year either.

My unit was fairly expensive at the time at around £54 but cheaper products are available. I can only assume that your neighbour has a different product than this one and has perhaps set it to go off all the time or put it in a position where repeated movement is triggering it. This product has only two settings – on or off. I am not familiar with any other products of this kind on the market but I have noticed they are less expensive.

Usually there will be recommendations for using products like this. Five seconds does seem quite long – if your neighbour is using batteries you can be sure they must be going through quite a few!

I can completely sympathise with you having to suffer a high pitched sound day and night. I am guessing that you don’t want any conflict with your neighbour but perhaps they don’t realise that it is being triggered all the time.

The way these products should be used is to train the cats to use different routes which it does, however the cats are smart and then will adapt to new routes and at this point the unit should get moved and so on. Eventually the regular cats wandering by should, for the most part, by pass the garden.

I hope your problem with your neighbour’s cat problem gets sorted. Tests will be done on these products but perhaps there should be legislation to ensure all products are tested to meet specific standards.

Primrose London said...

We sell a range of cat repellers and deterrents, including the Catwatch which Shirl has been using. We hear great things from customers using repellers, and to avoid the regular noise that Anonymous (8th July) can hear it's best to get one with a PIR detector. This is what the Catwatch, our Cat Repeller 40 and most of our repellers use. It means that the device is only set off when activated by movement or heat, so is not on all the time. This also helps the cat learn to associate the noise with it's presence in the area.

This also helps preserve battery power, although if you do have an active garden with lots of movement you might want to invest in a mains adapter so you don't have to worry about batteries running out!

My cat will only poo in our garden, much to our dog's delight!Yuck!!

Michelle said...

Hello Shirl,

What a great blog, I have just added you to my favourites.
I came across your blog whilst searching for the CATWatch on Google. Being a Blogger myself I like to read other bloggers blogs!!

I have been feeding the birds for a couple of months now, we have some hedgerow outside our house where I have hung some feeders, and they have been a huge success, I could spend hours just watching the birds come and go. I've got sparrows, dunnocks, coal tits, blue tits and more recently a Robin (or two).
However I too am experiencing a most unwelcome visitor of the four legged variety!
Unfortunately I am not a cat lover and do not share your patience with them. They are sly predators, and I would glady like to see the cat off for good!
This morning I saw it pounce on the birds that were happily feeding, I'm not sure if it caught one as I quickly raced down the stairs to scare the cat off. I even managed to throw some water on it.

I have started to notice periods where there are no birds on the feeders (which is uncommon as there have been so many visitors) and I know that this is due to the cat hiding out.

It really bothers me to think I have invested so much time, effort and money in feeding these birds and their young, and then a cat can just come along and undo all my hard work.

As an animal and nature lover, it pains me to think that this horrible cat could cause so much harm.
Nature and instinct aside, if I get the chance, the cat will be going on the end of my boot!!

Michelle

shirl said...

Hi there Michelle :-) how very spooky to get your comment yesterday when about an hour after you left it, bold as you like, a cat strolls by along the path in the area I was about to film with a male chaffinch in its mouth. It’s the first time I’ve seen this in a while.

At this time of year when I’ve so much foliage in the garden I don’t usually put out my CATWatch unit unless I see repeated cat prowling. However, now I think its time to get a battery and position it in an area where the most bird food is being dropped at the moment.

I was setting up my video camera to record activity at a feeder (not in this area) that house sparrows were queuing up at. Part of me wishes I had been able to turn my tripod in time to name and shame this cat! I love to hear the male chaffinches sing and visit my garden, it will be missed :-(

There was a time I would feel really sick when I saw this. I did have a moment yesterday. The bird was in my garden at the feeders but on the other hand it was a very wet day (when the feeders are always busy) and many birds were about so I know I helped feed them too.

It’s usually the Starlings that are messy at the feeders and lots drop to the ground but these recent large numbers of house sparrows (which is good) visiting at the moment and they seem to be spilling it even more! I guess the chaffinch was among groups that are running around the ground below the feeders. Hopefully my unit in that area for a while will help. I’d slow down filling up the feeders but that would mean the birds would search even more on the ground.

Yes, like you have experienced, for a while after there were no birds at the feeders but I guess this is no different than when I see a Sparrowhawk fly around a route in my garden. Mm… I still find cats walking away (through my garden) with a bird in their mouth so much worse. I can understand how you feel.

As a rule if I see a cat in my garden, CATWatch unit on and position or not, I open my window and hiss loudly (apparently they don’t like snakes) and generally they run off pretty smartish! However, I can’t be gardenwatching all day.

I try to position my feeders with obstacles for cats but they are pretty determined. Once I saw one climb inside my trimmed Leylandii hedge! Because it was trimmed I saw odd movement in the hedge which caught my eye… then a ginger leg and paw came out of the hedge! Its attempts at swinging this leg to swipe a bird off a hanging feeder failed spectacularly especially when I ran outside towards it with my camera :-D

Wishing you and your visiting birds luck in out smarting the cats :-D

Anonymous said...

Hi Shirl, we came from SA where the gardens are massive, to live in the UK. We had a variety of pets of which we had 2 cats that we had to leave behind with friends (broke our hearts). Anyway, one saturday we decided to have a look at a cat show advertised by a local cat protection agent. My daughter convinced us to buy a kitten, and the the lady organising the show convinced us to take two brothers who would keep each other company. Well it has been an experience...very cute, very annoying but most of all I now realise that we might be in for a spot of trouble with the neighbours if our cats go into their garden (never had a problem in SA because of the large gardens). Did not really think of this until I read the blogs. The kittens are still too small to be allowed to wander.

shirl said...

Sorry I missed replying to this sooner. I hope you (and your young cats) are settled. I'm sorry that this post has caused you worry.

As a gardener I have come to accept that cats go through my garden. However, if I were to be a cat owner (not likely) I would put a bell on the collar of my cat as that way my neighbours could never say that visiting birds in their gardens (or mine) weren't given a warning when my cat wandered through it. Bells might be a help to you too :-)