Cat Chattering (Vacuum Activity)

This is one of the best cat chattering videos I have seen because there are two cats doing it in harmony 🙂 This is a very nice, high definition video of three cats, two of which chatter nicely. The third doesn’t want to participate.

The best explanation of this mysterious, and amusing to humans, feline behavior is that which is provided by Dr Desmond Morris the well-known British zoologist. I fully endorse his explanation. He says it has been described as a “tooth-rattling stutter”. Most observers describe it as chattering and thanks to the internet it has become well-known. There are a few explanations on the internet but none as good as Dr Morris’s. For example, says the cat is copying the bird. This is based on a study regarding monkeys. Sorry guys but that is not very good and it sounds hopelessly wrong to me.

Dr Morris calls it “vacuum activity”. I’ll quote if I may from his book “Catwatching” for the sake of clarity (please buy the book):

“The cat is performing its highly specialized killing bite, as if it already has the unfortunate bird clamped between its jaws…there is a peculiar jaw movement employed to bring about an almost instant death…the cat crunches down with its long canine teeth, aiming at the nape of the [bird’s] neck. With a rapid juddering movement of the jaws it inserts these canines into the neck, slipping them down between vertebrae to sever the spinal cord. This killing bite immediately incapacitates the prey and it is an enactment of the special movement that the frustrated, window-gazing cat is performing, unable to control itself at the tantalizing view of the juicy little bird outside.

I have taken a great liberty in quoting Dr Morris extensively but it explains this feline behavior so beautifully. He says the killing bite is guided by the indentation in the body where the body joins the head. The cat feels that indentation and it helps to guide him. In the dark the cat’s whiskers ‘feel’ the position where to bite.

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Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


Cat Chattering (Vacuum Activity) — 3 Comments

  1. A more recent concensus on the reasons for chattering is that the chatter is an expression of frustration. Cats will do this at any time their objective is frustrated.

    Think of it as “please stop” or “please continue” when the cat chatters during petting. Think of it as “This glass is inbetween me and that bird”

  2. I believe this explanation as my neighbor’s cat killed a baby bird this way. I heard him meowing in a weird way one day right outside my door and I thought he was in trouble so I went to check on him. We have coyotes in the area and I am quite fond of him so I was worried as his owner allows him to free roam during the day. I opened my door and there was a dead baby bird right by my step with blood coming from his neck and Ziggy the cat yowling over it. So the severing theory makes sense to me as gruesome as it is. It was upsetting but I understood he thought he was bringing me a gift and wanted me to be proud of his hunting abilities or he thinks I am a big, stupid cat that cannot hunt and needs food. I am not sure which. LOL. I feel very sorry for the baby bird and it’s mom. Another time I saw Ziggy propel himself into the air from a low brick divider wall by our house to try to catch a bird taking off but luckily he missed that time and I did not get a “gift”.

    • Thanks Michele for your story. Desmond Morris is perhaps the best zoologist on cat behavior. He is very plausible. The brutality of domestic cat hunting is stark sometimes. The cute kitty becomes the ruthless killer. It is a bit distressing. I wonder if the cat-human relationship would be better is cats weren’t top class predators.

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