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


  • Chad

    To Selma- are you serious? House cats are a significant cause of bird speicies extensions? We should prevent cats from roaming without leashes??? Wow, I’m a raging liberal and this is bay sh*t crazy talk. No matter how uncomfortable you are with predator/prey interaction amount the fauna of our planet, no one will ever change it nor should they try.

    God wanted it this way, get over it.


  • Carrie

    My cat makes a similar sounds when I sneeze. Almost like he’s mimicking me… In my mind he’s being polite saying" bless you " however they more be does it the more I be realize he’s trying to copy me. So cute.


  • Pyper

    My cat talks(chatters) to the birds. And the seem to talk back. She is usually laying down outside when they come and talk to her. LOL It is so cute. Today I got 2 birds that came and talk to her. It seems like a full conversation too.


  • Geoffrey Tobin

    Not all cats are bird-killers. Our neighbour has two ragdoll cats. They are mousers: one kindly delivered a mouse to our door.

    The birds have zero concern about those ragdolls, and these cats show no interest in the birds.

    But when a strange cat enters our garden, every bird in the vicinity squawks at the top of its voice. Such a racket!


  • Geoffrey Tobin

    Our Belgian Shepherd dog once mimicked human vocalisation. It was close enough for me to turn my head to make out the words: there were none that I could identify, but still it was one of the freakier of the several spontaneous, surprising things she did.


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