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What Makes Cats Chirp at Birds? Understanding Their Prey Calls

You may be asking yourself, “what is that noise my cat is making while watching the birds?”, maybe they’re looking out of the window or playing in their Catio when you hear them making funny sounds at the small critters.

With owning cats comes learning about the many strange and interesting quirks and traits that cats have to offer. A very quick thing learned by us cat parents is that cats have a wide range of vocabulary. Yes, cats meow, pur, and hiss, but did you know they are actually able to make upward to 21 different vocalizations? The one that seems to intrigue people the most are the “chirping” sounds our cats make when bird watching!


These sounds will arise when your cat's attention is caught by prey creatures in their vicinity. This can include birds, rodents, and bugs! It is believed that your cat is mimicking the calls of their prey, and using these sounds can help attract prey toward your cat!

A lot of what our house cats do is inherently based on their natural instincts. Prey calling has been observed in wild cats such as pumas and jaguars, and margays have even been documented imitating tamarin monkeys! Just like their wild cousins, our house kitties’ prey vocabulary is actually mainly based around four different sounds, all named after bird calls. These are the chirp, chatter, tweet, and tweedle.



A chirp is a common sound used to mimic prey. It is defined as a high-pitched, short call. When in sequence with itself, it is referred to as a chirrup.


Very similar to a chirp sound but considerably softer or weaker with no clear initial sound. When heard in sequence, the sound is referred to as a twitter.


A tweedle is an extended chirp or tweet with some voice alterations throughout the elongated note.


A chatter is the only reaction to visual prey that is considered to be voiceless. The sound that can be heard is primarily made from a tense jaw and open mouth quickly stuttering, creating a clicking sound. This reaction is said to be an involuntary response triggered by the excitement of seeing prey. This jaw movement is used to kill prey and lessen the risk of self-injury.

The basis of each one of these calls will stay constant but the sound will have variations and be unique to each cat. These calls can be singled out but can also be mixed together, most frequently being chatters and chirrups. While mimicking prey is a main part of these vocalization sequences, they have also been observed when something is strongly desired but out of reach.

Cats are elusive creatures that will always make us question what they are doing and their reasoning behind their silly behavior. It is interesting to think that even though they are considered “domesticated”, they still display many traits of their wild ancestors!

Leave a comment below about what else makes you believe you are really living with a tiny house tiger and which of the sounds above you have witnessed them using to call over potential prey!

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