Why Do Cats Chatter at Birds?
Imagine the scene. Your cat is perched by the window, peacefully looking out into the garden or lying in the sunlight, enjoying the warmth. Suddenly something catches their eye – an unsuspecting bird resting in the grass, maybe – then they become immediately alert. Now on all fours, your cat glares through the window as their tail slowly swings side to side. This all seems like normal, instinctive behavior until your cat starts making funny noises, a kind of chirping, chattering-type noise. You’ve probably witnessed this situation many times and maybe you’ve even wondered if it’s normal or why your cat does this when watching poor birds. If you haven’t seen this before then a quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of videos showing cats chattering and mesmerized by their prey!
If you’ve ever been curious about this phenomenon then hopefully this article will clear up any questions you might have!
What Is That Chattering Noise?
First of all, you might be wondering what the sound actually is and how your cat produces it. Cats make this sound by vibrating their top and bottom rows of teeth together, a bit like us humans do when we’re cold. Although, cats often vocalize softly at the same time in the form of a short, staccato ‘meow’. These funny noises are perfectly normal, in fact, most cats will make them when stalking potential prey. Although this is normal behavior, common in both wild and domesticated cats, there hasn’t been much research into it and scientists don’t have any conclusive theories as to why it occurs. Instead, they have speculated a few likely reasons which we’re about to learn!
Theory #1 – Instinctive Mimicking
The most popular theory regarding cat chattering is an instinctive response to discovering and stalking prey. Scientists believe that by mimicking bird calls or chirping sounds, cats may be able to attract birds into their vicinity. Once the unsuspecting bird has let down its guard and approaches the cat’s direction, the cat is close enough to pounce and catch its prey.
This theory is widely believed as the most likely reason for the behavior following a study in Brazil by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The study took place in the Amazon forests where pied tamarin monkey vocalizations were being recorded and studied. During the study, a hungry wildcat appeared and began to identically repeat the monkeys’ calls. Fabio Rohe, one of the researchers who witnessed this incredible sight, states, “cats are known for their physical agility, but this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a physical cunning which merits further study.”
This suggests that chattering could actually be an example of your cat trying to speak bird language! Who knew?!
Theory #2 – Frustration
Although this theory doesn’t have much scientific evidence, it seems to make perfect sense. If your cat is attempting to stalk its prey but has no way of getting close enough to attack, it could simply be projecting its frustration through sound. This theory could also apply to wild cats that are too far away from their prey to attack but can still see them. So, whether it’s a domesticated house cat or wildcat in its natural habitat, these frustrated felines could simply be venting their frustration as they can’t get to their prey.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do if your cat is frequently in this situation, other than keeping them distracted to prevent growing frustration. Playing with your cat is, of course, the top choice. Using a toy which they can actually chase and catch could be a good way for them to release that tension. Similarly, if they just want to sink their teeth into something tasty, a few well-timed treats would be an excellent choice. So, the next time your cat seems to be stalking something it can’t catch and you think they might be getting frustrated, try to keep them busy with some toys or treats until they forget.
Theory #3 – Adrenaline
Another likely theory for your cat producing this strange sound is the rush of adrenaline they may experience when stalking their prey. As the adrenaline begins to pump through your cat’s body this may cause their teeth to chatter uncontrollably. This is because chattering is believed to be similar to the ‘killing bite’ – otherwise known as the ‘fatal bite’. This occurs when cats catch their prey and bite on their neck, rapidly vibrating their jaw to bring a sad but swift end to the hunt. It might sound sad and gruesome, but this behavior is instinctive across all cats, wild or domesticated, and comes naturally to them. Afterall, cats are natural predators in the wild and this behavior is in-built, even in adorable little house cats!
This could also be a way your kitty shows uncontainable excitement when it spots a bird nearby. Chattering, chirping and other funny vocalizations could all be ways for your cat to let you know a feathered friend is in the garden as they can become super-excited when seeing new faces! When cats experience this excitable mood, they will usually be keen to play and have some fun with their owner. So, try playing with some toys which involve chasing or catching the next time you hear them chattering – you’re likely to get an enthusiastic response!
Whether it’s a clever way of luring their prey close enough to pounce on, a way of venting frustration over not catching their prey, or maybe even the build-up of adrenaline before the hunt begins, chattering is a naturally occurring behavior in most cats. Despite the lack of research carried out on this behavior, cat experts and scientists believe this funny habit could be caused by any one of these reasons.
Although the sounds seem strange and funny to our ears, they are perfectly normal so don’t worry if your cat sits by the window, chattering away. Just keep some toys or treats at-hand and you’ll be sure to keep them distracted! At least now you know what might be going on inside your little kitten’s head when they begin chattering and making funny sounds all of a sudden!
- How Cats Communicate – PetMD
- Scientists Discover New Meaning for Cat Chattering – Catster