Why do cats chatter when they see birds?

November 27, 2023

Cats are mysterious creatures full of peculiar habits and behaviors that continue to intrigue pet owners and animal researchers alike. One such behavior that has sparked curiosity and laughter among cat owners is the distinctive sound cats often make when they see birds. This sound is often described as "chattering" or "chirping." What causes these creatures to make this curious noise, and what does it mean? Let’s delve into this fascinating topic and gain some insight into our feline friends’ intriguing behavior.

Unraveling the Mystery of Cat Chattering

Often, when your cat stares out the window and spots a bird, a peculiar sound will emerge from its mouth. Some describe it as a chatter, others as a chirp. But why does this occur?

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This sound is a rapid, high-pitched clicking that seems to be produced from deep within the cat’s throat. It’s almost as if they are trying to mimic the calls of birds they see outside. However, the underlying cause of this behavior isn’t fully understood. Various theories have been proposed, each of which sheds light on the possible reasons behind this intriguing occurrence.

When it comes to understanding our pets’ behaviors, it’s essential to remember that many of their actions are instinctual. They can be traced back to their wild ancestors and the survival tactics they used when living in the wild.

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Predatory Behavior and Hunting Instincts

Cats are natural hunters. This instinct is so strong that even well-fed house cats will often engage in hunting-like behaviors. The chattering or chirping sound they make when they spot a bird is potentially related to these deeply ingrained predatory instincts.

One theory suggests that the chattering sound is an expression of frustration or excitement because they can see their prey but cannot reach it. Imagine being tantalisingly close to your favorite food, seeing it right in front of you, but being unable to eat it. This is essentially the situation your cat finds itself in when it sees a bird through a window.

Another theory posits that cats chatter as a way of practicing the ‘kill bite’. When cats catch their prey, they deliver a swift bite that causes spinal injuries, resulting in the immediate death of their prey. The chattering could be a manifestation of your pet rehearsing this crucial bite.

Mimicry to Lure Prey

Another intriguing theory proposes that the chattering behavior may be an attempt on the part of the cat to mimic the sounds of its prey. In the wild, some big cats, like leopards, have been observed to mimic the calls of their prey as a hunting strategy.

The ability to mimic a prey’s sound would allow a hunting cat to lure its target closer, making the hunt easier. While there’s no concrete evidence proving that domestic cats use this strategy, it’s an interesting possibility that would explain why the chatter sometimes sounds like bird calls.

An Expression of Excitement Or Anticipation

Cats are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings. They pick up on sights, sounds, and movements that humans often overlook. When a cat sees a bird, it’s not just looking at it – it’s studying its prey.

In this case, chattering could be interpreted as a physical manifestation of the mental and emotional stimulation that comes when a cat is observing a bird. It’s as though the cat is so excited and focused on the bird that it starts to chatter unconsciously.

It’s Not Just Birds

While this article focusses on cats chattering at birds, it’s vital to note that this behavior is not exclusive to their feathered friends. Cats have been known to chatter at other animals too, such as squirrels or other small creatures. Even images or videos of birds and small animals can trigger this response in some cats.

In conclusion, cat chattering is a fascinating behavior that highlights both the complexity and the instinctual nature of our feline friends. Whether it’s a sign of frustration, a hunting strategy, or a simple expression of excitement, it’s another reminder of the wild roots that still exist within our domestic pets. The next time you catch your cat chattering at a bird, you’ll have a deeper understanding of what might be going through its mind.

Is Cat Chattering A Sign Of Stress?

While most theories suggest that cat chattering is a manifestation of their hunting instincts, some animal behaviorists propose a different perspective – it could be a sign of stress.

According to this theory, when a cat sees a bird or other small animals, it gets excited and wants to engage. However, if the cat is indoors and unable to reach the animal, it can lead to frustration. Chattering may thus be a response to this stress, especially in cats that have a high prey drive but can’t hunt.

This theory is supported by the fact that some cats don’t just chatter but also exhibit other signs of stress, such as pacing back and forth, scratching furniture, or acting aggressively.

However, it is essential to note that not all cats that chatter are stressed. Some may just be expressing their excitement or anticipation. It’s crucial to observe your cat’s other behaviors to determine if the chattering is a sign of stress. For example, if your cat is eating and sleeping well, playing frequently, and generally seems content, it’s likely that the chattering is not a cause for concern.

If, on the other hand, your cat shows signs of stress or anxiety, such as excessive grooming, loss of appetite, or changes in behavior, it would be wise to consult a veterinarian or a cat behavior specialist.

The Sound Of Cat Chirping

The sound cats make when they see birds is often described as chirping or chattering. While these terms are used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two.

Cat chirping is usually a series of quick, high-pitched sounds, not unlike the chirp of a bird, hence the name. It’s a fascinating behavior, and some theories suggest that it’s a form of mimicry designed to draw in unsuspecting prey.

Chattering, on the other hand, is a slightly different sound. It’s a rapid, teeth-chattering noise that’s usually associated with the sight of a bird. As we’ve seen, it could represent excitement, frustration, or stress, depending on the context.

Regardless of the differences, both sounds are a reminder of the fascinating complexity of cat behavior. Next time you hear your cat make these unusual sounds, take a moment to appreciate the remarkable instincts and abilities of our domesticated friends.


In conclusion, the phenomenon of cat chattering and chirping when they see birds is a fascinating display of their innate predatory instincts. Though we may never fully understand every nuance of cat behavior, we can appreciate it and learn from it. Whether it’s a sign of excitement, frustration, or even stress, this behavior serves as a reminder of the wild instincts that still exist in our pet cats. The sound of a chattering cat is a testament to the wild roots that still exist within our domesticated friends. The next time you catch your cat chattering at a bird, remember that you are witnessing a natural and instinctual behavior that is as mysterious as it is intriguing.