Why Do Cats Make Those 'Chirping' Sounds?

They DEFINITELY want something.

Anyone with a cat is likely familiar with that funny sound cats make when they spot a bird outside a window, or maybe when they're chasing their favorite feather toy.

An outdoor cat making chirping sounds
Nicole Ruby

Suddenly, your cat starts making strange noises that could only be interpreted as "chirping" or "chattering."

click to play video

So why do cats do this? It has a lot to do with their hunting instincts, according to Dr. Erika Loftin, veterinarian and critical care specialist at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital.

"Generally, cat chirping occurs when a cat is interested in or provoked by prey - a bird, a squirrel or a rodent, for example," Loftin told The Dodo. "It's more of an excited sound and less of a sound used to hunt. It seems to be universal to cats of all ages and breeds. Even wild cats can make this sound."

An indoor cat making chirping sounds
Siege the Cat

Cats usually chirp when they're looking at birds or squirrels, but they may also do it when they're excited about "hunting" toys or kibble, or even their humans, although this is much rarer, Loftin said.

These strange cat sounds might also have to do with frustration, Celia Haddon, a cat behaviorist, told The Dodo.

"We usually hear this chattering behavior when a cat cannot get to the prey," Haddon said. "Cats often chatter when they are in the window looking out at birds, for example. I think it is the result of almost overwhelming frustration. The drive to hunt is so strong that it is hardwired into cats."

An outdoor cat chirping at a bird
Rachel Kay

This chirping phenomenon occurs whether cats are inside or out. "If they are kept indoors, many cats will hunt flies and some will even 'hunt' their owners," Haddon said. "Sitting behind a glass barrier and looking out stops them doing their full hunting sequence. They are stuck on the eye stage."

Even if cats are stuck in the "eye stage," they might try to hunt an animal if they get the chance. For this reason, it's wise to keep cats indoors - not only is this safe for wildlife, it's also safe for your cat.

An outdoor cat chattering
Barbara Steele

But cat chirping shouldn't be interpreted as hardline evidence that cats are killers. Some cats have been known to befriend all sorts of animals, including ones they might normally "hunt," such as rabbits, ferrets, rats and even pigeons.

For example, a cat named Bella fell in love with a rabbit named Poppy, and the two of them spend their days grooming and cuddling each other. In an even more unusual case of interspecies friendship, a cat named Ranj hugged and kissed and cuddled a rat named Peanut.

While these interspecies friendships are quite special, Haddon points out that they're also pretty rare. "Never leave your cat alone with, say, the house rabbit," Haddon said. "Always supervise. Where animals are concerned, it's better to be safe than sorry."

An outdoor cat chattering
Reva Hodgkinson

To help prevent your cat from feeling frustrated, try enticing them with different toys - feather chasers, lasers and foil balls are all great choices for kitties with active imaginations.