Why Cats "Chirp" At Birds, According to Science

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!


  • 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

  • Jen

    Oh yes, our cat chatters at birds quite a bit! I just love it! It was what I assumed what she was doing-mimicking and dreaming of attacking them. Interesting about the surge of adrenaline. None the less we agree it warrants further research!

  • Jojo

    Selena- please tell me you AREN’T serious!? How is a cat roaming outside unleashed not good environmentally? I’m sure the birds and lizards will survive and not be extinct because of a cat. This makes 0 sense to a normal person, and is complete babble. Cats NEVER loose their sense of wanting to hunt their prey. That’s what felines do. I personally would never let my two out of the house unsupervised, but I do have a screened tent I put them in the backyard for a little bit to sun bathe when it’s nice out. They’re both definitely indoor kitties and I intend to keep it that way! Love my two fur babies.

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