Why Do Cats Chirp at Birds?

Ever wonder why cats love to chatter at birds, especially when they spot them from behind a window in your home? There are several reasons for this instinctive cat behavior, with the urge to kill chief among them.

According to the nonprofit American Bird Conservancy (ABC), "predation by domestic cats is the number-one direct, human-caused threat to birds" in the U.S. and Canada.

Outdoor cats kill around 2.4 billion birds every year in the U.S. alone. The figure represents the "combined impact of tens of millions of outdoor cats." Outdoor domestic cats are listed among the world's worst non-native invasive species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Findings from a peer-reviewed January 2013 study by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, published in Nature Communications, suggested that "free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought."

Experts told Newsweek why cats chirp at birds and whether they'll eat them too.

A cat staring at a bird.
A cat staring at a bird on perched on a branch. Sometime's a cat's chattering may express frustration over not being able to catch the bird. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Why Do Cats Chatter at Birds?


Cats can't help but get excited when they see potential prey. The president of The International Cat Association (TICA), Vicki Jo Harrison, told Newsweek, as their "hunting instincts take over" when cats see birds through a window.

"Their excitement at the prospect of a hunt causes them to chirp and may also be coupled with a swooshing tail," she said. "Their chirping is an expression of joy, much like a child's squeal when given a gift."

Author Pam Johnson-Bennett from Cat Behavior Associates and Zazie Todd, author of the upcoming book PURR: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, agree that the chattering may indicate excitement.

According to one theory, "it's how the cat controls excitement when spotting potential prey. In other words, cats are keeping this secret to themselves," Johnson-Bennett told Newsweek.

A cat chattering by a window.
A cat chattering while looking out a window. The excitement of the prospect of a hunt causes cats to chirp at a bird. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Preparing to Pounce

Another potential reason for the chattering is that "it's a reflex motion before attempting the killing bite to the prey's neck," said Johnson-Bennett.

TICA's Harrison added that by mimicking bird sounds, the cat hopes to trick the birds into getting closer "so that it can pounce and capture their prey."

Cats may also exhibit some of the following body language while chirping at a bird, according to the TICA president.

  • Ears pointed upward, facing slightly forward.
  • Eyes wide, pupils darting as they follow birds.
  • Whiskers pointed forward, away from the face.
  • Tail held low and likely twitching.

These are signs that your feline is "hyper-focused on the birds it can see" and the chirping is a side effect, Harrison explained. "The chirping is also a way for cats to communicate with other felines that they have spotted prey."


According to some experts, the chattering may express a cat's frustration over not being able to catch the bird, Johnson-Bennett said.

This is especially the case when "a window is in the way" of a cat's ability to capture the bird, Todd told Newsweek.

"Unfortunately, excitement can quickly turn to frustration," Harrison said. "Eventually the chirping becomes more agitated, chattering out of frustration when they are unable to catch the bird through the window, adding to the anticipation."

A cat staring at pigeon through window.
A cat looking at a pigeon outside a window. Cats can't help but get excited when they spot potential prey. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Do Cats Eat Birds?

Todd said: "Sometimes cats will catch, kill, and eat birds." Cats are small predators and if left to their own devices, they're able to catch their own food, mainly mice. "We used to highly value that mousing ability," she said.

But when felines are fed by people, they generally prefer the pet food they're given since "after all, it's designed to be tasty and isn't full of bones and sinews," Todd said.

Johnson-Bennett explained: "Cats are opportunistic hunters. They pursue multiple types of small prey, depending on what is available." So birds would be no exception.

How to Prevent Cats From Catching Birds

Some recent research suggests that cats are much less likely to catch birds if they're fed a high protein food and have a regular playtime, according to Todd.

"Even when fed by their humans, cats still have that predatory instinct. That's why it's so important for us to make time to play with our cat with a wand toy or similar, so they still get to engage in those predatory behaviours," the author explained.

For cats given outdoor access, another safety measure you can take is to have the cat wear a "BirdsBeSafe" collar bib when they're outside. The birds can spot the bright colors on the bib and can fly away before the cat catches them, Todd said.

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

A cat with bird in its mouth.
A cat holding a bird in its mouth. While cats do eat eat birds, they generally prefer the pet food they're given as it's designed to be tasty. iStock/Getty Images Plus