Why Do Cats Chatter at Birds?
Cats have a whole repertoire of noises to indicate how they feel: purring to signal contentment, meowing to say hello, and caterwauling, hissing, or yowling to show fear or anger. They also have a sound they produce when they are interested in prey: chattering. It’s a noise you’ve probably noticed coming from your furry friend while she sits at the window, laser-focused on squirrels hopping from branch to branch or a trio of birds chowing down at a bird feeder.
It’s a Predator Mechanism
Some people believe that the rapid movement of the jaw is an involuntary mechanism that allows the cat to achieve a lightning-fast kill bite that might not be possible with a voluntary action. Since cats usually kill their prey quickly, we might not have time to see it occur during a real hunt.
Some owners suggest that the cat may be performing a type of mimicry to attract the birds. It might sound crazy, but scientists have observed the housecat’s larger relatives, the Margay mimicking the sound of monkeys to lure them into a trap. Many people believe that if one cat can do it, they all possess some inherent ability to do the same.
Your cat may be excited and suffering from overstimulation when it sees several birds on a nearby rooftop, and the chatter and noise are simply a result of that. Humans laugh, cry, yell, talk nervously, and have all kinds of changes in behavior due to an external stimulus, and your cat is undergoing something similar.
You will likely notice that your cat only tends to make the chattering sound when it cannot catch the target. The cat sees its prey and knows it is within range, but some object or force blocks its path. Since it cannot take down the prey, it’s likely frustrating, especially as the birds carry on day after day, paying little attention to the cat.
It’s Letting Others Know
Some people believe that the cat could be making the chattering sound to let other cats know it has found food or something outside. Many owners point out that if you mimic the chattering sound, your cat will usually come running to see what you are doing, backing up the statement.
The chattering sound could be a response to adrenalin that starts pumping when the cat sees something within range. Many humans start to shake uncontrollably when they are overly excited, and the chattering your cat makes can be something similar. Your cat might not chatter in a real hunt because it burns off the adrenalin in the pursuit as it prepares to take down its prey.
When Do Cats Chatter?
Cat chattering (also called chirping or twittering) nearly always happens when a cat is mesmerized by a visual stimulus such as a bird or rodent moving around. These are her hunting instincts kicking in. You might also notice physical changes in your cat as she chatters: Her eyes may widen, her pupils may dilate, and her ears may tilt forward. She’s concentrating hard, and her body shows it.
What is Your Cat Saying When She Chatters?
According to cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant in San Francisco (aka The Cat Coach and author of Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement). However, there are a couple of theories on what causes cats to chatter when hunting; it appears to be an instinctual response.
“Cat chattering could be caused by neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, as well as the hormone cortisol/adrenaline released into the system,” Krieger says. And while the thrill of the hunt may start illicit chattering, there might be another reason your cat reacts this way: “Frustration,” Krieger says. “If a pane of glass separates a cat from its prey, the chattering at the window may also indicate pure frustration of not being able to reach the prey readily,” she says. Some cats might chatter when simply playing. “I’ve seen cats chatter over a laser pointer,” Krieger says.
What if Your Cat Chatters at You?
If you are playing with your cat with toys that are imitations of prey, such as toy mice, your cat may chatter at you while you’re holding the toy. It’s usually no reason to worry. Just keep an eye on your furry friend and back off playtime if he looks like he’s about to pounce. While your domesticated pet knows and loves you, wild instincts can’t be turned off when supposed prey (especially when it’s brushed in catnip) is around.
What Is It Called When Cats Chatter?
- Bird Calling