On an early Sunday morning, you can probably find your cat perched up on the window sill watching the world go by. Well, that’s until a bird suddenly lands on the patio table, and your cat immediately takes notice. An absurd chattering-like sound escapes from your kitty’s mouth as she hones in on this mysterious winged creature—but why?
Cats chatter at birds because they’re predators. This trilling shows that a cat is frustrated that she can’t catch the bird, excited that she might end her hunt with a snack, or mimic a bird’s chirping to provide comfort before pouncing. Cats also chirp at squirrels, toys, and bugs they can’t reach.
Chattering is probably the most bizarre sound you’ll ever hear your kitty make, but it’s not something you’ll listen to every day (or even every time your cat catches sight of a bird, for that matter). To learn about why cats chatter at birds, read on!
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What Is It Called When Cats Chatter?
That chattering sound a cat makes when she sees a bird, insect, small mammal, or toy goes by quite a few names, most notably:
This unusual chattering begins when your cat notices a stimulus that piques her interest (or the “target” of her hunt). As is standard with feline hunting behaviors, you may see that your cat’s pupils dilate and ears push out sideways as she gets into a low-crouch position.
The chattering itself is faint but distinct.
A kitty in hunting mode will rapidly open and close her mouth — just as your teeth “chatter” when you’re shivering in the winter — and emit a very soft chirping sound, unlike her normal meow.
Cats typically only chatter when there’s prey that they’re unable to reach (i.e., a bird on the other side of the window or a bug hanging out on the ceiling). As such, the chattering usually ceases when the bird flies away or — in rare circumstances — your cat has the chance to give chase.
If you’re thinking, “I’ve never seen my cat chatter before,” then there’s a chance you might not know what chattering looks or sounds like. Watch the three kitties below make this unique sound toward a bird on the other side of the window:
It Is an Exciting Thing for Them
Cats may seem like lazy and aloof creatures, but there are a few things that perk them up without question: playtime and dinnertime. When a cat sees a bird land out on the patio, she can’t help but get excited.
This chirping critter looks like a blast to chase and pounce on, and if you’re not giving your cat four 10-minute play sessions a day, your cat is practically itching to give chase and get moving.
Outdoor cats are also among the greatest threats to wild bird species. Since kitties are responsible for killing up to four billion birds a year, it’s merely in your cat’s genes to hunt down nearby birds for a tasty midday snack. The chattering is the sound your cat makes when the sight of birds excites her.
They Get Frustrated
There’s nothing your cat wants to do more than crash through that window or door to chase down this bird herself. However, even if that robin is just inches away on the other side of the glass, your cat likely found out the hard way that this bird is still out of reach.
It’s incredibly frustrating for a cat to watch that delicious snack in chasing distance without being able to even chase it down for fun. Thus, your cat’s quiet chattering sound could stem from the excitement that ultimately transitioned into severe frustration.
The clear-cut sign that frustration is causing your cat’s chattering is seeing what your cat does after several seconds or minutes of staring at this bird. If your cat turns around to attack you or another cat in the household, your cat is likely overstimulated and needs a new outlet.
Be sure to redirect your kitty’s attention if she’s known for getting stressed by that hummingbird on the patio. Toss her favorite mouse toy, begin firing away with the laser, or wiggle her favorite wand toy in front of her face and turn her attention toward something else.
It Is a Unique Hunting Strategy
Cats are stealthy creatures and pride themselves on their ability to sneak up on birds and mammals in the wild, but a cat’s ability to hunt might be even more systematic and impressive than previously believed. Cats could be mimicking the sound of the birds they’re chasing.
This theory all traces back to a study published in 2013.
Researchers discovered that wild cats in the Amazon figured out how to mimic native tamarin monkeys’ calls. This strategy gave local cats a leg-up on their prey — allowing the tamarins the comfort of knowing they’re among “their own” and luring them close. Jaguars exhibit similar chattering noises while on the prowl.
Now, the jury is still out on whether domestic cats chatter for this same reason. Since your cat spends long days listening to the birds outside and the chattering sounds oddly similar to a bird’s calls, it’s certainly a plausible explanation.
What Do Cats Chatter At?
Birds on the window sill might be the bane of your cat’s existence, but they won’t be the only targets of your kitty’s chattering noise. Any “prey” that a cat wants to chase down or pounce on may trigger this bizarre sound, including:
- Humans (sometimes to say “hello”)
- Crawling and flying insects
- Small mammals like mice, chipmunks, or squirrels
- “Hunting” toys like lasers, plush mice, or wand toys
Interestingly, most cats have this instinct whether they’ve ventured out into the wild or not, similar to how cats know to cover their poop in the litter box to “fly under the radar.”
Other Interesting Sounds Cats Make
Now that you know why your cat twitters and what it sounds like, you’ll probably be a little more in tune with the noises your cat makes throughout the day. Aside from the cat noises you know all too well (hissing, purring, meowing, and chatters), you may also notice:
- Yowling: This long, drawn-out sound might sound like your kitty is calling for help or in severe pain. Most times, a yowl is merely a cat’s way of audibly looking for a mate or letting an unknown cat know to stay away from their territory.
- Trilling: This sound seems to be an unusual combination between a purr and a chatter. Trills sound similar to the noise you make when rolling your tongue, and your cat will often use this sound to grab your attention or communicate with a young litter of kittens.
- Caterwaul: No sound will force you to leap out of your sofa to check on your cat quite like the mysterious caterwaul. Don’t worry; your cat isn’t in pain. If your cat is making this noise, she (or sometimes he) probably isn’t fixed and is merely looking for another feline during mating season.
There’s usually a pretty good reason for those random kitty chatters. So, put yourself in your cat’s shoes (or paws) and look hard in the same direction. You’ll probably find a spider ascending the wall, a snake slithering in the grass, or a chipmunk approaching the back door.
The chattering is an undeniable sign that your cat’s hunting instincts are still powerful. With that said, your kitty might enjoy swatting at wand toys or chasing the elusive laser to release that pent-up energy and get the desire to hunt out of her system.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Understanding feline language
- ASPCA: Meowing and Yowling
- PetMD: How Long Should You Play With Your Cats Each Day?
- Nature: The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States
- LIU.se: A phonetic pilot study of chirp, chatter, tweet and tweedle in three domestic cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.