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


  • Lesley

    My cat utters the strangest mrowww when she has a toy or she captures prey- prey bring socks or tinfoil balls-only when she’s running around with it in her mouth. It’s like us speaking when our mouths are full! I can differentiate the sounds, and always know when she has conquered an inanimate object.
    She also does the chattering at birds or anything moving outside. All my cats have done it, whether they’re rescue or indoor from birth. Gotta love cat talk! 😻


  • Inés

    Our European shorthair female cat, Peca, chaters every morning to the pigeons she sees outside. She’s letting us know that they are there and she ‘enjoys’ their movements. Peca is a strictlyv indoor cat and I doubt she has ever hunted for food.
    dd


  • Nicki

    I sneezed the other day while my cat was sleeping and he chattered at me for it. First time he’s done that and he’s eight.


  • Marg Love

    My cat definitely makes a strange sound once he has caught his prey. And he always tries to bring it into the house.


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