Why Cats "Chirp" At Birds, According to Science

43 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!


43 comments


  • Carole

    Of our 3 cats we have only one who chatters. She wakes us as soon as it gets light out so she have eat breakfast .
    Then she wants the shades up so she can watch and chatter away. She has her own routine. Also has us trained!!


  • Leona

    My black cat Ebony cold like a dove. She was born outside I’m thinking around a dove nest.


  • richard

    I have a runt of the litter Bengal cat. He has always been hand reared indoors alone by my mate and myself since he was tiny and young. BB [ Bengal Boy] appears to have no visible predatory instincts. Our neighbor has a trained- talking parakeet that was taught to say ‘’Hey BB!’’ We visit with our kitty and he responds to the bird with meows like he does to us when we talk with him [ frequently!]. The bird has no fear and our cat shows no aggression even when the parakeet hops around on the floor in front of him. We have noticed no special chattering sounds by BB but assume the parakeet may learn to imitate a ‘’ meow’’ sound since he has a vocabulary of nearly 50 sounds already. Both seem amused- but are always watched carefully. They do seem to have developed a friendship. Knowing a cat may pounce or play rough— we pay close attention. It is rather unique and we have done video to post on you tube soon. We are curious if others have seen similar non traditional – bird-cat- companionships. 3-26-2019


  • Carolyn Riddle

    A cat catching a woodpecker underscores why cats should be kept indoors. The leading cause of songbird deaths is windows, a close 2nd cause is domestic cats. Bird species numbers are declining worldwide. Indoor cats are safer themselves from dogs, raccoons and other wildlife, and cars. My cat goes with me a lot in the car or in her backpack, but she doesn’t wander outside off leash.


  • superbek

    We have a Tortie-point Siamese and she is the sassiest cat that I have ever seen. She chatters, hisses, and growls at just about anything and everything. If she is sleeping and the dogs are being too loud, she will chatter and growl without even moving or opening her eyes. If one of our other cats walks by her in passing, she hisses. If you pick her up, she will give lots of varying low growls but she’s all talk and no walk. She’s a total lap cat and even cuddles with the dogs (but not the other cats, lol). Loves to hunt. Once time we saw her catch a woodpecker mid-flight. Her name is “Baby Cat”.


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