why do cats chatter at birds?

Why do Cats Chatter at Birds?

You may have caught your cat staring intensely out of the window into the garden, crouching as they stare down a bird that’s just flown into their line of vision. Suddenly, they open their mouth, emitting a curious chattering sound, their jaw vibrating. It almost sounds as though they are trying to mimic the bird they are intent on making their prey. It’s a very strange and interesting sight to behold, however, you might be wondering why on earth your cat is displaying this odd behaviour. Could they be ill? Are they trying to tell you something? What’s going on?

So, What’s Going On?

First things first, don’t worry! Your cat’s noises, while rather strange, are completely normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, there is no definitive answer as to why cats do this when looking at birds, but experts do have many theories and explanations.

cats chattering at birds

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Unfortunately, there has been very little research into cats and their weird habit of chattering at birds, so many of the answers experts have come up are mainly speculative. Take a look through our list of the most likely causes of your cats chirping and hopefully you will come to your own conclusion as to why your cat is making this quirky noise.

It Could Be…Predatory Instincts

It is widely believed that this odd behaviour is part of a deep-rooted predatory instinct. Experts have suggested that felines will produce this noise when they have spied their prospective meal. The chattering almost sounds like they are trying to mimic the birds, which may be a tactic used to lure them into the pouncing vicinity.

The rapid vibrations of the cats jaw is part of what is known as ‘the killing bite’. Also often called the ‘fatal bite’, this occurs when a cat leaps upon its prey and clasps it tightly in its claws. The cat will then bite into the back of their prey’s neck and rapidly vibrate their jaw, which allows their teeth to slide into the vertebrae and slice through the spinal cord. It may be a sad and violent end to the poor bird, but these instincts are embedded in your cat’s nature. So, don’t surprised if your precious kitty brings a present (or as we humans might call it, a dead bird) to your doorstep!

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It Could Be…Frustration

Perhaps the reason behind the weird sound our cats are making is down to their frustration? But what could you cat possibly have to be annoyed about? Well, some believe that cats make this noise to vent their irritation at the fact they cannot reach their prey. They are so close and have them in their sights, yet cannot get to them and release their primal instincts.

If this is the case, there is not a great deal you can do to alleviate your cat’s frustrations. The truth is, although your cat is a domestic, loving house pet, deep down, they are predators, and failure to perform as such may leave them feeling a little unfulfilled and irritated. Why not dangle a feathery toy in front of your cat when they begin chattering, this will distract them and give them the chance to let off steam by chasing something they can actually catch!

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It Could Be…Excitement

Cats are funny little creatures and display their emotions and feelings in unique and curious ways. This weird noise and vibrating of the jaw could just be one of the ways that they are expressing their feelings.

Similar to venting their frustration at their prey, your cat might simply be expressing excitement and joy at noticing a bird. They may feel such happiness and exhilaration at spotting a feathered snack nearby, that they just can’t help but make odd little chirping noise.

canary bird chased by a cat

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It Could Be…Mimicry

As we touched upon earlier, the reason behind the chattering could be down to a cat’s instinct to copy the bird. In fact, scientists have discovered that cats will attempt to mimic the sounds of monkeys in the wild, which has led them to the theory that they may be doing the same to birds in their own gardens. But why would they do this? Well, they could be trying to lull their potential prey into a false sense of security, so that they will put themselves into a vulnerable situation where they could be attacked. After all, why would a bird flee from one of its kind?

Once the bird has let down its guard and wandered into the open, its time for the kill. Your cat’s animal instincts will take over and they will attempt to catch their prey – let’s hope the bird can fly away in time! You could always try to divert your kitty’s attention by shaking their food bowl or offering them one of their favourite snacks. That way, the bird is saved and your cat will be pleased with their cat treat – everyone is happy!

So, whilst we may never have a definite answer as to why our feline friends display such strange behaviour when watching birds and other small prey, we do have some pretty solid theories. The most important thing we have learned is that although this activity may seem unusual and even a little alarming if you’ve never witnessed it before, it is nothing to worry about. Your lovely cat is perfectly healthy, they are just displaying some of their wild cat instincts!

Have you ever caught your cat making a funny, chattering noise whilst vibrating their jaw? Now, instead of wondering just what on earth they are doing, you’ll have some idea of what is making them tick!

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  1. Dr. Patty Khuly VMD, Why Does My Cat… Chatter at Birds?, VetStreet

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