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Why Do Cats Chatter at Birds? 5 Possible Reasons & FAQ

cat and bird
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Cats are vocally gifted and can produce up to 21 distinct vocalizations.1 But one specific sound continues to baffle most people: Chattering.

Chattering is a unique sound that cats make after seeing prey, such as birds while looking out the window. It is characterized by quick, rhythmic jaw movements interposed by short, high-pitched chirps and tweets.

A cat will stare at its prey with laser focus when chattering. It may move closer, but usually, it sits still in a crouched position. Its eyes widen as the ears tilt forward. You might also see a wagging of the tail.

Chattering is a typical sound that all felines instinctively make. But animal behaviorists are yet to figure out exactly why they do this. Nevertheless, researchers have proposed some interesting theories. Join us as we examine some of the popular ones below.

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The 5 Reasons Why Cats Chatter at Birds

1. Expressing Excitement

Perhaps cats chatter to express excitement on seeing prey. The prospect of a hunt can make a kitty experience an adrenaline rush due to overstimulation. That could result in chattering, which is sometimes followed by tail swishing.

This theory might not be far-fetched. Humans also make all kinds of sounds when overstimulated by external factors. They yell, cry, laugh, or talk nervously.

cat in bird house
Image Credit: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova, Shutterstock

2. A Predatory Instinct

Cat owners sometimes forget that their cute furry friends are natural predators with an instinctive desire to hunt prey. Some people believe this predatory instinct is tied to the chattering sound.

According to the theory, the rapid vibration of the jaw is an involuntary mechanism that enables the cat to achieve a fast kill, something they couldn’t replicate with a voluntary action.

Once they hold the prey’s neck between the teeth, the jaw rapidly vibrates and severs the spinal cord, delivering a swift death.

3. Expressing Frustration

Have you noticed how a cat almost always makes a chattering sound when viewing prey through the window? Some people believe the cat could be expressing frustration because it can’t reach the animal through the glass.

Initial excitement at enjoying a kill can quickly turn into frustration. It is easy to see why the cat could vent irritation when the prey is so close it can almost taste it.

cat watching bird
Image Credit: Andrzej Puchta, Shutterstock

4. Telling Others

Some people believe the chattering sound could also be a cat’s way of alerting other cats about the prey it has found.

According to some owners, cats usually come running when you mimic the chattering sound, probably expecting to find some food. So, there could be some credence to this theory.

5. Mimicking the Prey

A more recent theory proposes that the chattering sound could be the cat’s attempt at mimicking a bird’s sound. Proponents of this fascinating theory suggest that mimicry could be a hunting strategy, an attempt at luring the prey closer by making familiar sounds.

red tabby cat hunting a small bird
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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When Do Cats Chatter?

Cats typically chatter at birds through the window. But that is not the only time they make that sound.

A feline will also chatter at rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels it can see. It might also make the sound upon seeing an insect on the ceiling or somewhere it can’t reach.

Cats can also chatter when there’s no prey in sight. For instance, it could direct the noise at toys that mimic prey during playtime. There are also cases of cats chattering while chasing a laser beam.

Is Chattering a Cause to Worry?

No. Chattering is a normal instinctive behavior that all cats exhibit. So, it should not be a cause for worry. In fact, it shows your kitty is happy and engaged and should be encouraged.

Trying to interfere with or stop such a natural behavior could have significant adverse effects. First, distracting a cat in such a focused state could trigger an aggressive reaction. Also, denying the cat that outlet could result in stress.

If you are worried the chattering is due to frustration, try mitigating the situation by engaging your cat in playful activities. You can also provide interactive toys that entertain and stimulate them.

bengal cat on wood
Image Credit: Uschi Dugulin, Pixabay

Can Cats Eat Birds?

Cats are natural predators and can successfully hunt birds and rodents like rats and squirrels. In fact, there was a time when people primarily kept cats because they could hunt and kill rodents that invaded farmers’ crops.

However, cats prefer the pet food we feed them. So, they are less likely to hunt for prey if you provide adequate nutrition. Experts suggest feeding them a high-protein diet.

How to Stop My Cat from Eating Birds

Feeding your cat may not necessarily quench its desire to hunt. That’s because it’s less about hunger and more about the thrill of the chase.

Therefore, some domestic cats can still hunt for birds when given a chance. Outdoor cats kill around 2.4 billion birds in the country every year. That statistic can cause owners who let their kitties venture outdoors to worry.

You can stop your cat from eating birds by providing alternative avenues to quench its desire to hunt. That means setting time aside for engaging your cat in playful activities. You can also buy interactive toys to stimulate the cat physically and mentally when you’re not present.

If your cat spends time outdoors, consider getting a collar bib. The birds can see the brightly colored bib from afar and will fly away before the cat gets close.

a cat playing with toys
Image Credit: winni-design, Shutterstock

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So, why do cats chatter at birds? Well, we might never get a definitive answer. Some of the theories sound convincing, but it’s all guesswork at the end of the day.

The critical thing to remember is that chattering is a normal behavior and not a cause for worry. It helps keep your kitty engaged and stimulated.

Trying to interrupt or reprimand your cat for the act is not advisable. Denying your furry friend that outlet could cause stress and frustration and trigger behavior such as aggression.

You can encourage chattering by giving your feline friend a great view of the outdoors. Alternatively, you can consider other physical and mental stimulation activities such as daily play sessions and interactive toys.

Featured Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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