sky_hye: (004)
[personal profile] sky_hye
With nothing else to do, I fell back on one of my favorite pastimes, namely, pondering the mysteries of the domesticated cat. This time, the question was, why do our cats make that chattering sound when they see prey that can fly?
Example 1
Example 2
I know the usual theories, and I don't like them. One explains it's the housebound cat's frustration at not being able to catch a bird through the window. Another suggests that the action simulates the instinctive kill bite cats so badly want, so the sound is simply an accompanying side effect of the movement. I don't like either of these. I have seen many cats chatter at prey within their reach -- for example, while watching a fly on the wall. The sound they make is not simply smacking sounds from teeth against lips, but a quick series of rapidly released compressed air in the throat. Sometimes, squeaks are emitted, as well. These are not sounds a kill bite would induce.

Is this instinctive behavior a leftover from our cats' wild ancestors' hunting practices? I have long wondered if the domesticated cat once had flying prey that could be lured by this little noise. Entering few keywords today, the Great Lord Internet provided tantalizing results. The domesticated cat's nearest relative and probable ancestor is the African Wild Cat of Africa and the Middle East. These cats hunt small mammals and birds. I did not find a specific list of their prey species, nor did I see any mention of their hunting behaviors. It would be ideal to know if African Wild Cats chatter while hunting birds, and if so, which birds? Undaunted, I took a leap and searched for small birds of the region and found sound samples for a few. One candidate emerged -- a thrush that skulks about on the ground and in low shrubs. It is the White-browed Robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini). Listen to its "alarm" call. It is quite reminiscent of the domesticated cat's flight-capable-prey inspired chatter. I'm not in a position to press my theory much further, but I like it better than the current ones shared across the Internet. I'm not saying the White-browed Robin-chat is the bird, but I am suggesting that one like this might have been the reason for our cats' instinctive reaction to prey that can fly.


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