Why Cats "Chirp" At Birds, According to Science

39 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!


39 comments


  • 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.


  • Kalech

    Im curious about the noise-mimicking thing.
    I mean my personal experience is obviously limited to my own cat, but he does this chattering when I offer to shoot a hair tie (by pulling it over my thumb like a sling).
    And he can obviously see that a hair tie is not a bird. That makes me think that its more likely linked to the excitement/frustration of wanting to chase something.


  • Helen Bruneteau

    My cart chirps to a little bird that visits, this bird eats from my cats bowl and drinks from her water bowl. Not one bit of predatory behaviour. Adding that my cat was born feral, I brought her home when she was a year old, skinny as and had a tick on her head. I’ve had cats all my life and this cat has the sweetest most thankful and loving nature out of all of them. Its made me rethink what feral cats are.


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