Break out of Frames

MacKenzie Look-alike Feral Cat Behavior -
Stalking a Mouse . . .

By Jack Carter

In the third of my articles on feral cat behaviour, we'll follow our feral friend as she hunts for mice.

When I saw my first feral stalk and catch her prey, I was hooked, and spent a good deal of time studying this behaviour. The story I'm posting here is one from my notebooks when a female colony queen stalks and eats a field mouse. I find it interesting to note that while a cat eats all of a mouse: fur, bones, and all, when eatting a bird, they often leave what I describe as a "feather coat", or basically a shell of the outside skin and, on to the hunt!


It's around 5:30 or 6:00 in the afternoon, and the colony is just starting to stir...after stretching and a quick grooming session and brief greeting to the other cats in the colony, the queen slowly heads off to her hunting grounds. Being a wise ol' female, she has long since discovered the prime mouse hunting grounds, and returns frequently as hunting mice makes for a quick snack!

She stops and sniffs the air, slowly changing her approach so as not to alert any mice that may be out foraging for food, approaching an area she has had success hunting before. As she gets closer, a change comes over her body...her musles tighten a bit as she presses her body closer to the ground, her fur out just a bit. Not fully fluffed out like she is frightened, but rather slightly "puffed" out to allow her to catch what air currents and motion she may sense. She shuts her eyes, and slowly starts to listen, listening for the high pitched sounds of a mouse hunting food. Listen as hard as you can, you will not hear anything but the breeze and maybe a cricket or two, but she hears more then we, and soon hears the tell tail sounds she's waiting for...she turns her head to face the location of the sound, and soon she is able to calculate the exact distance she needs to travel to pick up her prey. And make no mistake about it, at this point, even though she has not even seen the mouse, it is already her meal...she is such a good hunter that this mouse doesn't stand a chance!

Now the hunt begins in ernest. She has located the mouse; she's used her cat form of "echo location" to pinpoint it's location (and you only thought that bats did this!). She slowly lifts her head and looks around...looking for anything that may cause her a problem when she starts to go after her prey.

Sensing that she is too far from the prey to make a successful catch, she begins to slowly move forward. Keeping her body low to the ground, she stops every so often, and carefully listens to see that she hasn't frightened off her prey. Ever so slowly she creeps up on her unsuspecting prey, closer and closer till she feels that her distence is right and her chance of success is great.

Suddenly! Like a bullet from a gun, she springs...rushing forward to where she knows her prey to be. Then, just as quickly, right before pouncing, she changes direction, having heard the mouse as it hears her approach. She guesses right, and with one swift pounce, she's on her prey.

Dropping to "slow-mo" we can really get an idea of just how efficient a killer she is! During the "pounce", she has already determined where the mouse will be, and is able to land on top or very close to it, and reaching down, bites the mouse at the top of the neck. Bringing her prey up, she swiftly swings her head, breaking it's back, quickly killing it. If she were with kittens around five weeks or older, she would have more carefully qrasped the mouse so as not to kill it, bringing it back, instead, to her brood so she may teach them by example, and play, how to be the killer that she is.

As she has no kittens at this time, she swiftly gathers up her prey and leaves the area, so as not to disturb her future dinners.

She carries the mouse back to her den area, and under the watchful eyes of the other colony members she prepares to enjoy her catch. The other cats know to leave her alone. If she has any mouse left over (which is highly doubtful) she will share, but only after she has had her fill. This is not a bother, as the mouse hunting grounds are full.

Looking around for any signs of danger, she begins to eat her prey. The act of eating a mouse is serious business for our fearless huntress. She drops the mouse on the ground, rolling it around a bit with her paws. She reaches down, taking the mouse in her mouth by the head, and bites down cutting cleanly through the mouse at its nose, and proceeds to eat, a bite at a time, from nose to tail, devouring the mouse as we would a taco.

She wastes not one bite, consuming the entire mouse. Later, in a few hours, she will wonder off and rid herself of fur and other undigestble parts by throwing them up. But now, she grooms herself. This is an important step, as removing the smell of the blood from her fur assures her that she will not be spotted as prey by some other hunter seeking a quick meal.

She looks around the eatting area, and with her paw covers over any remaining blood and tissue that may remain on the ground.

With another meal under her belt, the queen is ready to spend some time in serious cat nap, perchance to dream of the mouse she'll catch tomorrow.

This article originally appeared on the Feral Cat Rescue mailing list:   Rescue Cat   (10 July '98).
It is reprinted here with the author's permission. Contact Jack Carter at:

Why Do Cats Sniff Butts? The Day in a Feral Cat's Life Stalking a Mouse . . . Territorial Marking




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