Cats are notorious for making bizarre noises, there’s the ever-soothing purr when she’s calm, excited chatter when she’s on the prowl, and downright odd yowl when she’s looking for a mate. But when your cat begins sounding like a winged species on the other end of the animal kingdom, you can’t help but wonder: Why does my cat sound like a pigeon?
Your cat sounds like a pigeon because it’s ‘trilling.’ These closed-mouth coos sound like a mix between a purr and a meow. When a cat trills, it’s usually a sign that the cat is content, demanding attention, or greeting a human. Cats often make pigeon noises as they rub or cuddle up against you.
If you’re looking to crack the mystery behind your cat’s “bird calls,” you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn about why your cat sounds like a pigeon, what it could mean, and whether it should worry you!
What Does Trilling Sound Like?
The pigeon noise your cat makes has a name: Trilling.
But if you live out in the boonies and far from city limits, you may have never heard pigeon noises in-person. So, what does trilling sound like? A cat’s trilling sounds similar to the “rolling R,” like the ones in the Spanish words perro (dog), arroz (rice), or zorro (fox). A cat’s trills are typically high-pitched, last only a second or so, and might even sound like a soothing coo.
Some cat owners describe trilling as the halfway point between a meow’s pitch and the drawn-out rumble of a purr.
Try making this sound yourself! Hold your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slowly release a stream of air, and allow your tongue to vibrate. You can make your rolling Rs sound even closer to a cat’s trills by puffing out your cheeks to muffle the noise. If you’re a cat owner, your kitty may have perked her ears up when you did this!
How Do Cats Trill?
Teaching yourself how to roll your Rs is challenging, but understanding the source of your cat’s pigeon noises is far less tricky.
Unlike most cat noises (notably, the meow), cats trill with their mouths shut. This mysterious trilling sound begins down in your cat’s lungs. Your cat will push air through her trachea — the windpipe connecting the lungs to the mouth — as if she were breathing out. But since there’s nowhere for the air to escape, the air vibrates against the vocal cords instead.
The result is a muffled, high-pitched cooing sound. If you weren’t watching as your cat made the noise, you’d probably assume there was a loose pigeon somewhere in your house!
4 Reasons Your Cat Sounds Like a Pigeon
If you pay close attention to your cat’s trilling, you’ll notice a trend: It’s positive! You won’t find your cat trilling as she swats your hand away. Nor will she trill when she’s watching a bird through the window (despite sounding oddly like a pigeon herself). Cats only trill when they’re happy, excited, or calm.
Four possible explanations for feline pigeon noises (trilling) are:
To Get You to Follow
Adult cats may not meow, trill, or chirp at one another. But that doesn’t mean cats never vocalize around other cats. Mother cats use this bizarre pigeon sound to communicate with their litters of new kittens. In cat language, this trilling could mean, “Follow me!”
If your cat trills at you, get up to see what she wants. Chances are, your excited kitty will excitedly run off into the other room and look back to make sure you’re following her. Just don’t be surprised if your cat guides you to an empty water bowl, a dirty litter box, or a favorite toy.
Many people believe that cats are self-sufficient or even aloof. But given your cat’s cuddle cravings and desperate pleas for a scratching session, you know that some felines will do just about anything for attention. This same logic holds for trilling kitties.
An attention-seeking cat may make these pigeon noises as she weaves between your legs or stares at you from across the couch. These trills might transition into purring as soon as you give in to your cat’s command and finally pet her!
To Spark Conversation
Some cats aren’t quite as intentional with the sounds they make. It’s not unusual for a kitty to meow, trill, or chirp at her favorite human because she’s feeling a little chatty. Even cats get a little lonely sometimes and need a little extra attention.
Try offering a high-pitched meow or trill back at your cat. If your cat’s looking to spark conversation, she’ll probably make those sounds right back! Interestingly, you both assume you’re speaking one another’s language — but neither of you knows what the other is saying!
As a Greeting
Nothing excites your cat more than when you return home from work after eight hours or have guests over for dinner. As poorly as cats communicate with humans through vocalizations, many cats consistently trill as a form of greeting. A trilling cat could be saying, ‘Hey. Welcome!’
It’s easy to tell if your cat’s trills are simply a “hello” by looking at what happened before she trilled. Did you walk through the door, or did you accidentally wake her up while you were scratching her? A quick trill paired with bunting or snuggling is usually a warm welcome.
The mysterious trill is only just scraping the surface in the collection of sounds cats make to communicate. The Jackson Galaxy video below will explain the basic cat noises and what they might mean:
Do All Cats Trill?
Most cats can trill, but that doesn’t mean they will. Your cat’s trilling habit (or lack thereof) typically comes down to three factors: Personality, breed, and relationships.
Some cats are more outwardly expressive than others. While one of your kitties might trill up a storm as you walk through the front door, your other cat may greet you by rubbing her butt against your leg. In cat language, both messages are similar: ‘Welcome back!’
Just like Maine Coons can grow to 3′ long and Himalayans have blue eyes, genetics can play a role in feline vocalizations. For example, the Siamese and Bengal are quite chatty breeds, while the Persian and Ragdoll tend to be quieter.
Adult cats don’t meow at one another, but they learn to communicate with humans to ensure they receive their basic needs (i.e., Litter box changes or dinner time). A usually vocal cat may trill as a way of greeting you in your language (well, sort of).
While there’s no greater honor than having a cat trill at you, a lack of trilling doesn’t mean your cat is unhappy or doesn’t like you. Some cats express these feelings in a variety of different ways — just like us humans!
The first time you hear your cat trill, you’ll probably raise your eyebrows and ask, ‘Was that you?’ But despite sounding like a pigeon, these trilling noises aren’t a cause for concern. Cats typically trill when they’re feeling happy, relaxed, or talkative, so this unusual sound can wind up being quite heartwarming.
Of course, finding out why your cat is trilling requires a quick investigation.
Analyze when these pigeon noises tend to occur, including what happens before and your cat’s response when you answer. Remember that the key to understanding cat communication is taking the time to do so.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Understanding feline language
- Wikipedia: Feral pigeon
- Fluent U: Just Roll with It: The Ultimate Guide for How to Roll Your Rs
- Washington State University: Respiratory System of the Cat
- Library of Congress: How do cats communicate with each other?
- PetMD: Does Your Cat Love You?