Why Cats "Chirp" At Birds, According to Science

38 comments
Have you ever wondered why your cat makes strange, chattering noises at birds or small animals? Whether it’s pent-up frustration or excitement, these strange cat chatterings make it look almost like they’re trying to talk to the birds, in fact. And as it turns out, that might not be so farfetched a theory.

Even the most indoor of domesticated cats still have natural hunting instincts, and these instincts are often the driving force behind many cat behaviors, both positive and negative. Chattering at birds is just one of those behaviors driven by your cat’s natural instincts.

As it is with most things feline, trying to ascertain why cats do the things they do is a lot of guesswork. Many behaviorists theorize that the act of chattering at a bird is a cat expressing pent-up frustrations at not being able to catch prey beyond their reach. Others theorize that this strange series of chirps and clacks is a response to a surge in adrenaline when the feline spots its prey. Some behaviorists speculate that the movement of a cat’s chattering jaws simulates the “death bite” and cats are just preparing for the final moment.

But it begs the question - why would an ambush predator that relies on stealth make noise, potentially ruining their hunt? Thanks to a troop of pied tamarin monkeys and a hungry wildcat, we might be one step closer to figuring out why cats chatter at birds.

Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fabio Rohe was studying a group of these pied tamarin monkeys in their natural habitat in the Amazon forests of Brazil. Rohe and his fellow scientists were recording monkey vocalizations when a wildcat prowled onto the scene. The wildcat began making calls identical to those of the monkeys, mimicking their vocalizations;  the first recorded instance of a wildcat in the Americas mimicking the sound of its prey.

The main theory? Cats may be lulling their prey into thinking they’re not a threat by imitating familiar sounds. “Don’t mind me! I’m just another monkey!” Or bird, for that matter! According to Rohes, the monkeys in his study were nearly fooled.

 

 

 

Rohe theorizes that all cats may be able to copy the vocalizations of their prey. And while cats are known for the physical abilities of their hunting, this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a cunning which merits further study, he says.

Cat Condo - The Jungle Gym Cat Tree


What do you think? Does your cat “talk” to birds? Let us know in the comments!


38 comments


  • Aleksey

    My cat is talking to the bird. One day he called a dove and the dove came right up to him. The cat just grabbed him by the neck and dragged him. Cats know the language of birds.


  • Rebecca

    I’ve had 4 cats + now my 5th I adopted from a Shelter. I have him one month. He’s an almost 2 yr old male gray + white Tabby. When I first brought him home everything was new to him since he had never seen the outside world. He’d like sitting by the window watching the sights. (I live in a secluded area- no streets or traffic).
    I would say it was just about 3 weeks or so when I first noticed him – tail thumping + mouth chattering. It was a surprise since he’d never done it before. I thought – well All my other cats did it – it’s those hunting instincts that seem ’wired’s into them.


  • R. C.

    I have had many cats over a long life and they all chatter at birds. Even my 13 year old AnnieKat who has been indoors her whole life.


  • Tracy

    First time cat owner. Our cat is 2.5yrs old and mostly an indoor city cat. However he is fully vaccinated and is allowed outside when we visit our country home. When he was a bit younger he would chase the rabbits and the squirrels. He occasionally killed mice and moles. But we’ve noticed now he simply wants to sit on our deck in the sun. He definitely has the predatory skills – he makes this loud chirping nose whenever he hunts (insects mostly indoors). But he is well fed and seemingly prefers to come inside to eat his cat food than exude energy on a hunt. We are bird lovers & he seems to not have any interest in the birds. We have two squirrels that “yell” at him from a tree and he simply stares back at them. Cats like humans have personality traits that are unique to them individually.


  • Suseann

    My cat deffinetly chirps at birds but she is also deft and has been since birth so I do not think she is try to copy or mimic there shound


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