Break out of Frames

MacKenzie Look-alike Feral Cat Behavior -
The Day in a Feral Cat's Life

By Jack Carter

As promised, here is the second in a series of posts on Feral cat behaviour. This topic is one I find very interesting, and one I have spend a good deal of time on:   What does a normal feral do during the course of a general day? What are their sleep patterns, when do they play? Hunt? These and other questions can help us in understanding our Ferals and wild colonies, as knowing when our friends are active allows us to plan our support for them better. So with that, lets get on to it!

The following description is based upon a Feral colony located in the south of Lousiana.
This colony was a very long term colony that had been managed for over eleven years. The following descriptions are based upon observations and field notes gathered over a two year period. For the sake of this write up, we will assume a colony during late spring, twenty cats strong, with two females with kittens. This will allow me to go some into how the mother cats and kittens spend parts of their day, as well as other members of the colony. Please remember this is distilled from two years of observation, and is meant to be a gereral "guide" and not the account of a particular day, but rather a "general" day as distilled from the data.

First, we need to understand that the terms "morning" "noon" and "night" don't equate much to a cat's timeline, as these animals are primary night active. So as not to confuse us with "cat night time" vs "human night time" I will dispense with descriptive times, and go by a 24 hour clock. This, again, is based upon spring, as the different seasons change these times a bit to adjust to the light/dark cycle of the day.

The Start of a Cats Day

4:00 pm

Cat days, I've noticed, start around 4:00 pm, when the colony starts to climb out of its hiding spots for the day's activities. Here we see colony members greeting each other, lots of head butting and grooming as they wake for the days activities!

This is generally followed by a quick survey of their colony surroundings, sort of to check and see if all was as they left it. Any food buried from the day before is sniffed out, uncovered and eaten. Now the colony is starting to work out the food details, and often we see colony members wandering off in search of food, or in the case of a managed colony, waiting for the caretaker to show with the day's grub! This is why it is often easy to feed and work with a colony in the afternoons...their normal routine matches the caretaker's, and all works out ok!

The kittens are generally at play at this point, and (if below 5 weeks of age) often shielded from humans such as colony caretakers and others. Generally, I find that the mothers will start to bring the kittens out around 5 to 6 weeks, but most of the time, they will keep them away 'til then.

The kittens play with at least one female to act as watcher. This is also when you may find a male taking a bit of time to play with the kittens!

6:00 pm

This is when the hunting parties start to form! Hunting for cats I've found, is a very serious endeavor! Cats have developed excellent ways to communicate food availibility and locations to other colony members (I'll touch on this in a later write up). Generally, as a rule, I've found that Feral colonies tend to locate in areas where food can be this a dumpster near a local fast food restaurant, or a wooded field with plenty of mice! A female or two will search for food to bring to the kittens, and the "baby sitter" that has been left with the kittens will help show the new kittens how to "kill" and eat such prey. While the hunting party is out, this "baby sitter" will also help the young ones in catching insects, which make up a good part of their diet at this age, and a wonderful opportunity to hone these hunting skills! What better way to learn to hunt than to track the elusive dragon fly! Crunchy on the outside, soft chewy centers! A kitten treat, and a heck of a "kill" for a kitten, one to be proud of!

Hunting, food gathering, and general activities take up the next few hours in the cats' day, 'til along about dark.

9:00 pm

Cats, being basically lazy animals  (like our house cats) tend to want to grab some sleep whenever they can. This period is often a "lazy time" for the colony, as they have their bellies full, and if everything is calm in the colony, you'll find grooming activity and sleeping takes a good part of this evening period.

This is also a time of mating activity if there are females in the colony in heat. I'll not touch on this too much at this time, as this can change the routine of a colony.

Midnight and Early Morning

Here we find another hunting period. When colony members are well fed, you may find a visit or two to the feeding station at this time (if one is present)...this would also be a wonderful time to trap Ferals, were you so inclined!

Generally we have more play, some more sleep, and general colony activity around this time.

3:00 am

Very early mornings are a time of general play and social activity for the colony. More females may visit the kittens at this time, and the kittens (if about 4 weeks of age) are very playful around this time.

6:00 am

Last of the food runs. If this is a managed colony, this time may be moved up to fit the human that feeds the colony in the morning, but in the wild, the early hunt starts around 5 or 6 in the morning. This, in some ways is an important hunt, as any extra food caught now is buried for the next "cat morning" sort of as a wake up treat. The cats often bury this food for a good reason, that is to allow it to "rot" a bit, thus making it easier to chew and eat.

This period is also a wonderful time to work with the may be early for us humans, but it is generally a very relaxed time, as most night feeders are starting to bed down, and risks are lowered.

Morning and Midday

7:00 am

The cats start to locate their sleeping area, figure out who is going to bed down where, checks are made on the kittens, general all around "housekeeping" of the colony location, and checks for other cats before bedding down...a lot of territorial marking goes on during this time.

8:00 am - 12:00 pm

Generally the colony is hiding at this point, and sleeping. You may find one or two colony members making a quick survey to see if all is ok, but generally this is a sleep period for them.

12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

More sleep. Normally this is getting to be a hotter part of the day (we'll cover winter at a later time, things change a bit during colder weather) and the cats stay well hidden.

This brings us back to the start of the Ferals' day. There are a lot of interesting activities to observe, and will not follow this guide to the letter. This is rather a "general" day in a Feral's life, and there are may things that can change the day's activities. Understanding these changes, and how they effect our house cats is part of why I spend so much time with Ferals.

Please remember, that this is meant as a general guide to a colony's behaviour, and will not match any single cat or colony, rather it is a distilled description of many cats put together to understand their normal routine. Thank you...and I hope you find this of interest.

Jack Carter

This article originally appeared on the Feral Cat Rescue mailing list: Rescue Cat (13 May '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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