Ask Dr. Jenn: Why does my cat make chirping noises when she looks out the window?
What are these sounds and what do they mean?
Q: Why does my cat make chirping noises when she looks out the window?
A: Cats have the ability to make a variety of sounds. Aside from birds, they have the widest vocal range of all domestic animals. Cats love to communicate with each other and with humans, using a combination of their body language and vocalizations. A twitch of the tail, an arch of the back, and a unique sound can all convey different meanings.
My kitty Dottie is always talking to me. A quiet meow says “hello, I’m here”. A much louder meow says, “Fill my bowl.” A hiss says, “stop petting me” or “get out of my space”. I am most entertained when she crawls up onto the cat tower and looks out the window. She watches everything going by and when a squirrel or a bird comes into view, she sits up straight, her ears perk up, and she lets out a variety of musical sounds – chirps, trills, and chatters.
Chirps and trills are musical sounds made by some, but not all, cats. These are musical sounds made when a cat pushes air across the vocal cords without opening their mouth. Sometimes they will end with a chattering of their teeth. Cats learn to make these sounds at a young age by mimicking their mother. The queen will often chirp or trill at her kittens to comfort them when they are nursing. When they are older and trying to be more independent, she will also use these sounds to get their attention and guide them in a different direction.
Some adult cats will make chirping and trilling sounds to gain another cat’s attention. However, they more commonly make these noises when they are excited. Like, when a cat sees prey outside the window (maybe a squirrel, rodent, or bird) and anticipates a hunt. The excitement (and possibly frustration of knowing they can’t actually hunt their prey) can cause a whole musical number to come out of some kitties. I have even seen some cats start chirping just while watching YouTube videos of birds at a feeder!
A chirping noise can sound like the warble of a songbird. This has led people to hypothesize that chirping is an evolutionary advantage when hunting, to deceive their prey into letting their guard down. However, watching a cat hunt dispels this theory. Cats are stealth, silent stalkers who pounce without warning. Chirping at their prey would ruin the element of surprise and spoil the hunt.
Not every cat chirps. Some cats don’t have a strong prey drive and are not interested by the critters running around outside. Other cats may chirp or trill at their human as a greeting and as a polite first reminder it’s time to fill the food bowl.
Don’t be alarmed when you hear these strange noises coming out of your feline friend. It is not a sign of a medical or behavioral problem, but rather an expression of excitement, anticipation, and a little frustration. Just quietly watch this adorable behavior. Maybe even pull out your phone and make a video – your kitty could be the next YouTube star.