Cats have the ability to make a variety of different sounds. In fact, aside from birds, cats have the widest range of vocalizations of all domestic animals.
Everyone is familiar with the most common sounds our feline friends make which include a friendly meow, the purr of contentment, and a hiss to signal anger, but I think my favorite sound I hear from my cat is a chirp.
What Is A Chirp?
A chirp is also known as a trill, because it has a musical undertone, sometimes compared to the warble of a songbird. The sound is made when a cat pushes air across the vocal cords while keeping the mouth closed.
The short peep-like sound may be proceeded or followed by chattering of the jaw, giving the sound yet another name, chattering.
Most cats learn to chirp as kittens. The queen (mother cat) chirps to tell her kittens to pay attention and follow her. The kittens quickly learn to mimic their mother.
Some, but not all cats, will chirp into adulthood as a way to call out to their humans. More commonly, you will hear a cat chirping as he stares out the window, watching the birds, squirrels, and other creatures.
It has been theorized that chirping is an evolutional advantage cats developed to use during hunting. Chirping was thought to mimic songbirds so that the prey will feel at ease and let their guard down.
This seems unlikely for a couple of reasons: cats will also chirp when they see squirrels or rodents, not just birds, and the most successful feline hunters are very quiet and stealthy when they stalk their prey. Chirping draws attention to the cat and makes hunting more challenging.
A behavioral study done with a group of cats studied the different sounds cats made and classified them into different groups based on the sound pattern. The study found that, in most cases, a cat chirps because of feelings of anticipation or frustration.
This would explain why a queen chirps at her kittens, as anyone who has tried to herd cats can understand what a frustrating endeavor this can be.
Why Is Your Cat Chirping?
Cats that have a strong prey drive can be found staring out the window and chirping at the birds and squirrels.
I have even seen cats chirp in response to a video of songbirds at a bird feeder. Based on what we know about chirping, when your cat sees prey he chirps because he is either excited and anticipating a hunt or frustrated that he is unable to hunt the prey that is right in front of him.
If your cat isn’t much of a hunter, she may still chirp. She may chirp in anticipation of dinner when you pick up her food bowl. Or she may chirp when you come home after a long day at work telling you it’s time to pay attention to her.
Cats chirp for a number of other reasons, but chirping is rarely an indication that there is a health or behavior problem. Chirping, trilling, chattering, or whatever you choose to call it, is just another way cats communicate with us, and it’s usually quite adorable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do cats chirp?
Mother cats chirp to gain their kittens’ attention and to lead them. Other cats chirp when they see a bird or a squirrel. This is thought to be in anticipation of a hunt or frustration that they can't get to their potential prey.
Why does my cat chirp and not meow?
Cats make many types of vocalizations and each one conveys a different meaning. When a cat chirps, it is usually in response to something he is excited about, such as a bird outside or a bowl of food. A meow is more of a generic sound that can be a greeting or a way to call attention to something, such as an empty food bowl.
What does it mean when a cat chirps?
If a cat is chirping at her kittens, it means “pay attention and follow me”. For other cats, it usually is due to excitement, frustration, or anticipation.
Why does my cat make little noises?
Your cat makes little noises as a way to communicate his or her feelings. Each noise has a different meaning. Part of the joy of having a cat is that we can learn what these sounds mean and understand them better.