Why do cats chirp at birds?

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Have you ever wondered why cats like to chat with birds, especially when they spot them behind a window in your house? There are several reasons for this instinctive cat behavior, the main one being the urge to kill.

According to the non-profit organization American Bird Conservancy (ABC), “predation by domestic cats is the leading direct human-induced threat to birds” in the United States and Canada.

Outdoor cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds each year in the United States alone. The figure represents “the combined impact of tens of millions of outdoor cats”. Outdoor domestic cats are ranked among the world’s worst invasive non-native species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The results of a January 2013 peer-reviewed study by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, published in Nature Communication, suggested that “free-ranging cats cause considerably higher wildlife mortality than previously thought”.

The experts said Newsweek why cats chirp at birds and if they eat them too.

A cat staring at a bird perched on a branch. Sometimes a cat’s chatter can express frustration at not being able to catch the bird.
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Why do cats chat with birds?

Excitement

Cats can’t help but get excited when they see potential prey. International Cat Association (TICA) President Vicki Jo Harrison said Newsweek, because their “hunting instinct takes over” when cats see birds through a window.

“Their excitement at the prospect of a hunt causes them to chirp and can also be coupled with a whistling tail,” she said. “Their chirping is an expression of joy, much like a child’s cry when given a present.”

Author Pam Johnson-Bennett of Cat Behavior Associates and Zazie Todd, author of upcoming book PURR: the science to make your cat happy, agree that chatter can indicate excitement.

According to one theory, “this is how the cat controls excitement when it spots potential prey. In other words, cats keep this secret to themselves,” Johnson-Bennett said. Newsweek.

A chatting cat near a window.
A chatting cat looking out the window. The excitement of the prospect of a hunt makes cats chirp at a bird.
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Prepare to pounce

Another potential reason for the chattering is that “it’s a reflex movement before attempting to kill the prey’s neck bite,” Johnson-Bennett said.

TICA’s Harrison added that by mimicking bird sounds, the cat hopes to entice the birds closer “so it can pounce and capture their prey”.

According to the President of TICA, cats may also exhibit some of the following body languages ​​when chirping at a bird.

  • Ears pointing up, turned slightly forward.
  • Eyes wide, pupils darting as they follow the birds.
  • The whiskers pointed forward, away from the face.
  • Tail held low and likely to twitch.

These are signs that your feline is “hyperfocused on the birds it can see” and the chirping is a side effect, Harrison explained. “Chirping is also a way for cats to communicate with other felines they’ve spotted prey.”

Frustration

Some experts say the chatter can express a cat’s frustration at not being able to catch the bird, Johnson-Bennett said.

This is especially the case when “a window gets in the way” of a cat’s ability to capture the bird, Todd said. Newsweek.

“Unfortunately, excitement can quickly turn to frustration,” Harrison said. “Eventually the chirping becomes more agitated, chattering in frustration as they are unable to catch the bird out the window, adding to the anticipation.”

A cat watching a pigeon through the window.
A cat looking at a pigeon in front of a window. Cats can’t help but get excited when they spot potential prey.
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Do cats eat birds?

Todd said: “Sometimes cats catch, kill and eat birds.” Cats are small predators and if left to their own devices can catch their own food, mainly mice. “We valued that mouse ability a lot,” she said.

But when felines are fed by humans, they generally prefer the pet food given to them because “after all, it’s designed to be tasty and isn’t full of bones and tendons,” he said. Todd.

Johnson-Bennett explained, “Cats are opportunistic hunters. They pursue several types of small prey, depending on what is available.” Birds would be no exception.

How to stop cats from catching birds

According to Todd, some recent research suggests that cats are much less likely to catch birds if they are fed a protein-rich food and played regularly.

“Even when fed by their humans, cats still have that predatory instinct. That’s why it’s so important for us to take the time to play with our cat with a magic wand or similar, so that they can still engage in these predatory behaviors,” the author explained.

For cats with access to the outdoors, another safety measure you can take is to have the cat wear a “BirdsBeSafe” collar when outside. Birds can spot the bright colors on the bib and may fly away before the cat catches them, Todd said.

“But cats vary a lot in their hunting behavior and some catch a lot more than others,” she said.

A cat with a bird in its mouth.
A cat holding a bird in its mouth. Although cats eat birds, they generally prefer the pet food they are given because it is designed to be tasty.
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