Why do my cats chitter at pigeons?

Recently, the Piper Cats have started making a new noise: they stare out the window and make a “chitter” noise. I finally clued in: they do it when they see pigeons on the roof of the house next door.

i’ve never heard this noise from a cat before, and they just started doing it in the past couple of months. The pigeons have been there forever. Maybe my cats are just a bit slow in noticing them.

But why this funny “chitter” noise? you’d think if they were hunting they’d be quiet?

I’ve always assumed it’s a “I want to kill them but I know I can’t” sound.

Pretty sure most all cats make that noise. Every cat I’ve had has done it. Like most things catty, nobody seems to really know why they do it: anticipation, frustration, or even mimicking their prey.

Or a perv/eaves dropper muttering to themselves while watching the neighbor undress.

This is my understanding although a good argument can be made to support P-man’s statement. I figure as long as they chitter at the pigeons and not me, everything’s fine …

It’s called a Flehmen Response. From the link:

Although the quote notes that cats do this in response to a scent, I’ve seen my cats do it at the window when they see birds in the back yard. (My cats chitter when they do it, too.) My guess is that since they can only see the bird, but not smell it as they normally would, they are trying to use their second scenting device to amplify the bird’s smell.

Here is a video of a cat chattering. Here is one of the flehmen response. They’re two different things.

I’ve always associated it with “want to hunt that”. Usually associated with butt wiggles.

Either of these works. My cats usually did it while staring at flies that were too high up on the wall to reach.

I recall reading somewhere (sorry, no cite) that an experienced actual hunter will not make a sound lest he/she alert the prey. The young and inexperienced ones make this sound in excitement and anticipation of biting down on the critter.

The cat we had when I was growing up would make the chittering sound at bugs, too, except that sometimes she would actually catch one and eat it. She found the moths to be somewhat unpleasant.

My ex feral cat, who is “Hunter extraordinaire” has never made this sound in the 5 years he has lived with us. Our 11 year old pampered house puss, spends hours sitting in the window, chittering at the birds outside.
No cite, but I think that it’s a kitten behaviour that the real hunters grow out of, (counter-productive), and house cats still do.

Funny about the moths. One of my parent’s cats enjoys sitting outside the window on summer nights snacking on the moths attracted to the lights inside. Then again, he loves to eat…

That definitely makes sense. I can’t imagine making noise while stalking prey is actually helpful.

My cats never grew out of it both because the window insulates sound and it doesn’t scare the laser pointer away.

Yes, this.

I’ve heard the “chittering” or “chattering” also called “gekking”.

“Here, little birdie, birdie, birdie!”

I wonder if this behavior is being selectively bred into our house cats. It’s cute as anything and I can definitely see someone deciding to breed to this behavior. Cat kibble is about $10 a month so we don’t really need our cats to be able to feed themselves.

We have had cats who chittered at houseflies, inside. Usually they then went after the flies, whether they could catch them or not.

Our cat will even make this noise when she sees, for example, the light reflected from my watch bouncing around on the walls or ceiling. It certainly seems to be a hunting instinct noise, indicating that she sees something that she wants to pursue.

Our present cat was a ‘barn’ cat and an outdoor cat until we got her. She does the chittering thing all the time. Perhaps it’s a frustration response, since she is no longer allowed to roam outside.

No, no…you people have it all wrong. If you listen closely, they’re saying stuff like, “Damn, why didn’t I buy that case of white wine when I had the chance? Where is that old copy of The Joy of Cooking-- a Béarnaise sauce would be great with this. I know there are some mushrooms in the fridge and some parsley in the neighbor’s yard.”

Many years ago, my husband and I moved out to the country, and the third day we were out there, our heretofore Inside City Cat Buggs showed up at the back door with a dead quail in her mouth. She was pretty danged proud of herself, and I distinctly heard her say (muffled by the mouthful of feathers), “I’ve got dinner! Time to break open that bottle y’all picked up last week!”