Have you ever seen your cat looking out the window, or maybe even directly at you, and make a strange sound, one that isn’t a meow? If it is similar to a bird’s chirp, your cat is chirping. But why do cats chirp?
Cats produce many sounds. Nicholas Nicastro, from Cornell University, performed a study with cat sounds in 2002 and recognized hundreds of cat vocalizations, from soft purrs to yowling. But what’s so peculiar about cat chirping?
Types of Cat Sounds
The sounds from domesticated cats can be categorized into four groups:
- Vowel sounds; variations of meowing
- Chirps and chattering
- Murmurs and purring
- Intense sounds; hissing, growling, or screaming
Chirping and chattering are different. Chattering is an angry sound while chirping is pleasant, and has a more appealing sound. For now, this article will focus on the chirping sounds that cats make.
Origins of Cat Chirping
Chirping sounds may have come from their hunting instinct. Cats usually make this sound when they see prey, such as rodents, or squirrels and birds through windows. Chirping sounds are made by both domesticated and feral cats. Cat behaviorists observe that whenever cats chirp, they make the same muscular movement as when they attack. Cats kill their prey by biting their prey’s neck.
It’s also theorized chirping is an attempt to call out to kittens in order to get their attention. Chirping is a mother cat’s way to tell her babies to follow her for food or to take them somewhere safe.
Reasons Why Your Cat is Chirping
Even though the term “chirp” is similar to the bird’s usage of the word, it is not by any means an exact reference to the “chirp” sound a bird makes. Cat’s also don’t chirp at birds. They chirp at squirrels, humans, or even toy feathers. Here are some of the reasons:
- My Cat is Chirping at Me!
Though rare, cats can chirp at their owners. This may mean they want your attention. It could be that they want food, cat treats, or toys.
Chirping is a cat’s attempt to appeal to you, to help you to follow them somewhere, perhaps because they found something outside. Or maybe they are chirping at you to attempt to get you to follow them to their feeding bowl. They don’t look at you like you’re prey. Don’t worry about that.
If there are multiple cats in the house, you may find them talking to each other through chirping.
- Kitten Chirping
Often, kittens that are handled by people are more vocal than other kittens, especially as they get older. Kittens chirp often, probably to imitate their mothers. Chirping is learned during infancy. Chirping could mean the kitten wants to play, or is asking for food.
- Chirping through Windows at Things
Chirping may be witnessed when a cat is near a glass window. This is where cats see the outside world, including birds, squirrels, insects, or anything that moves. Once the cats are stimulated, they chirp. Then the cat gets an adrenaline rush.
Some behaviourists believe chirping may be a form of frustration for not being able to go outside and kill, which is their natural instinct. The chirping may be accompanied by their tail swishing back and forth, and puffing up when expecting prey.
Interestingly, some cats develop rare relationships with their “usual” prey. There are even reported friendships between some cats and rats. They even pet and groom each other! When this occurs, cats chirp to express happiness.
- Inanimate Objects
Cats produce chirping sounds when excited. They also chirp at favorite toys. Cats are easily lured by feathers and lasers, so chirping at these things could mean that they are expressing interest with these toys.
What to Do When They Chirp?
Aside from giving them the attention that they need, nothing. There is no need to panic, even if the chirping lasts longer than usual, or if the cat is by the window and the prey is still outside.
Chirping cats want your attention, they want you to attend to their social needs. It is important to take note that chirping is a way of communicating with you. The more you become attuned to your cat’s vocalizations, the faster the bond between you and your lovely cat will improve. Noting changing chirping patterns could also signal health problems.
Remember, cat sounds are communicated along with body language, as described by Dr. Hetts of Animal Behavior Associates. In order to understand your cat more, observe its routines.
It’s okay if you don’t always understand what your cat is saying. Cats don’t understand the sounds they’re making either.
Other Cat Sounds and Their Meaning
- Meowing – the most versatile sound your cat can make, and probably heard the most often. It is usually a sign of greeting or means your cat wants something, like petting or food. At a higher frequency, it might mean your cat is irritated.
- Yowling – similar to human screaming. May mean your cat is in pain or discomfort. It may also mean that they are in heat, or in a fight.
- Hissing – clear sign of defensiveness or annoyance. It’s best to leave your cat alone in its territory if you hear your cat hissing. Abused or feral cats often show this fearful trait. If you continue to interact with your hissing cat, the hisses are likely to become growls, and possibly lead to attack.
- Crying and whining – cats cry, as heartbreaking as that is. The crying is higher-pitched than dogs’ crying. It usually means the cat is in trouble, so it’s better to ensure they are safe and sound if you hear them cry.
- Caterwaul – caterwauling can be heard from female cats in heat. This is their way of calling out to mates. It sounds like a hollow, low version of howling.
It is quite amusing to see and hear cats chirp. Have your cats been chirping away?