Caturday felid trifecta: A difficult rescue of a treed cat; a library cat during the pandemic; why do cats chatter at birds?

It’s Caturday, and you know what that means. (I don’t believe I’ve missed a week in years.)

Reader Peter sent this video of a treed cat being rescued in Sacramento, California, and added his take:

Here’s a short video of the Sacramento Fire Department rescuing a cat from a tree — the cat is fine and the guys have fun with it, but unfortunately the one they sent up the ladder clearly doesn’t know much about cats! He paid the price.

It is nice that some fire departments send out ladder trucks to do this. My one question is this: What happened to the cat after they brought it down? Did it have an owner?

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From ilovelibraries we have an article about what “library cats” (those moggies who actually live in libraries) are doing during a time when nobody can go to libraries. Click on the screenshot to read a short article. Here are four cats and what they’re up to with pictures below:

 

Browser:

Browser from Texas’s White Settlement Public Library may be one of the nation’s most famous library cats. In a viral story from 2016, a city council member tried to oust Browser from his position at the library; after a public outcry, Browser was reinstated for life while his political opponent lost his reelection campaign.

Browser has stuck around the library during the pandemic closure but seems to be missing the crowds.

“He is generally quite independent, but since the closure he always wants to be near people. We can usually find him in the lap of a staff member, or lying helpfully on their keyboard,” library staffer Kathryn King told I Love Libraries. “Now that we are offering curbside service, he posts himself at the window during curbside hours to watch the patrons come and go.”

Cosmo  (Note how effective cats can be to enforce mask wearing):

Cosmo strolled into the kid’s room at Grand County Public Library (GCPL) in Utah two years ago and has been a beloved fixture of the community ever since. Today, staff see him as “the face of the library”: he appears in monthly library newsletters and even has a weekly “Cosmo’s Corner” feature in the local paper where he (and his human co-writers) highlight different library services.

He’s stayed at GCPL throughout the pandemic, and now that that the library is starting to resume in-person services, patrons have been thrilled to see him.

“He’s also a peacemaker,” library director Carrie Valdes shared. “We’ve found it incredibly effective to enforce rules (especially the mask mandate) by focusing on Cosmo’s health!”

Left: Browser from White Settlement Public Library. Right: Cosmo from Grand County Public Library.

The MU Library Cat:

the library cat at Ireland’s Maynooth University has also been adjusting to life during COVID-19. Known only as the MU Library Cat, he’s been a campus celebrity ever since he started hanging out by the school’s library building; since then, staff have installed a hut to make his spot extra comfortable and even created a Twitter account on his behalf.

“He has become something of an unofficial mascot,” said Fiona Morley, head of digital programs and information systems for the library. “He is a popular, informal, and positive feline ‘face’ of the university and the library.”

Library staff know him to be extremely self-sufficient, but during the pandemic people have still been sure to drop by his hut to check in and share snacks. He’s also remained active on social media (with help from Fiona and fellow librarian Hugh Murphy), which he uses to stay connected to the campus community and share reminders about the importance of social distancing.

Socks:

Socks, the resident cat at Alabama’s Pinson Public Library, has been spending quality time with staff during the pandemic. A few years ago, he and his littermates were rescued by a city council member, who brought the kittens to the library hoping staff might be willing to adopt them. As it turned out, Socks ended up finding a home at the library instead, where he helps greet patrons and promotes the library on social media.

Library director Allison Scanlan thinks the COVID-19 closure may remind Socks of when the library moved to a new location in 2019. “We closed the old location for 3 months to pack everything up and move, so it was just the staff in the building with Socks at that time too. I think he was worried at first that we might be moving again!” she explained. “We have even scattered some boxes around for Socks. He will meow at patrons through the door if they approach. I know that he misses his adoring public.”

Left: the MU Library Cat from Maynooth University. Right: Socks from Pinson Public Library.

Like many of us, these cats clearly miss their regular human contact. I don’t when libraries will open up again (our university library is closed, but doesn’t have a cat, and at any rate there’s no indication it will reopen soon).

But every library and every bookstore should have a resident cat, so long as it’s properly cared for and has the right temperament.

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Finally, we come to the pervasive question of ailurophiles: Why do cats chatter at birds and other prey items? (It’s also called “machine-gunning”.) One would think it would be maladaptive for a stalking predator to make noises, as it could alert the prey. Here are two videos that show and then address the problem. The main answer is WE JUST DON’T KNOW, though there are many possible explanations. Four of them, discussed here, include excitement, frustration, practicing the killing “neck bite”, and mimicry of the prey sounds (the last seems highly dubious to me.

Here’s a project for an enterprising researcher.

And a compilation of chattering cats. I knew I’d find one on YouTube:

h/t: GInger K.

15 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 29, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    All of our cats have done this chatter. I think they are chewing the birds out. Squirrels do the same thing to people. They will just sit there in the tree and make all kinds of noise.

  2. Posted August 29, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Ah, the chattering cat question. In my experience, I have often seen my cats chattering at prey they can’t reach, like through a window as many shown here, but never when they are actually hunting prey down. A bird in a tree? Yes. A mouse in the grass? Never. So frustration sounds right.

    I’d be interested in hearing from others whether their cats ever chattered at prey they actually could catch.

    • Posted August 29, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Mine do it from the inside as well but never go outside so no data 😦

      • Posted August 29, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        I’ve seen mine chatter at birds in trees outside. Still unreachable. It often seems as if they are mimicking the bird. Perhaps to lure it down?

  3. BJ
    Posted August 29, 2020 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Damn it, I got really excited when I saw “why do cats chatter at birds” in the headline. Thought I would finally have an answer.

    None of the four explanations seem likely. All of my cats have made the sound, but only when they see birds. My first cat was an indoor/outdoor cat and was basically the local chipmunk population’s Hitler. I saw him kill critters several times, but he never made that chirping sound unless he was inside and watching a bird through a window. And he never showed any desire to immediately go outside to kill a bird he saw while making the sound. From my observations, the only explanation that seems remotely probably is attempting mimicry, but, as you note, that’s unlikely because it would alert prey to a cat’s presence.

  4. Ruthann Richards
    Posted August 29, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    All of my strictly inside cats (rescued as ferals) have also chattered at various creatures outside–including large spiders, katydids, squirrels, rabbits, etc. Normally their tails are rapidly swishing back and forth at the same time, which they would not do if they were attempting to catch prey. When I try to imitate the sound they look at me as if I’m crazy, but the idea gets across, so when I see something and make the sound, several of them come running. Clearly I’m not fluent at their language, but the idea gets across. To me they never seem frustrated, they are not mimicking prey sounds, and I don’t buy the neck bite motions idea. They just seem excited to see something out of the ordinary. If one is chattering, several others normally come running to check out the situation.

    My oldest cat is a specialist: she chatters only at katydids. She learned their sound as a young cat (taught by a veteran older cat) and runs to the back door when she hears it, sometimes chattering before she actually sees it. That to me is a sign of excitement.

  5. Posted August 29, 2020 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    My theory is that the chattering is a warning to other cats to not disturb the birds being stalked. “Quiet! I’m hunting birds here!”

  6. Posted August 29, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    My boy’s cat chitters at me when I’m up on the balcony and she is below. I doubt she thinks I’m prey.

    I think it’s frustration. They can’t get to the thing that they want. At least, that’s my interpretation since it’s usually outdoor things that attract the chitters.

    I’ll add that she doesn’t come upstairs by herself. She prefers being downstairs. So she’s frustrated that I’m where she won’t/can’t go.

    Of course, she’s a bit odd. She gets the puffy tail and back not when scared, but when she’s really happy and (usually) about to get fed.

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 29, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I get lots of chatter from my two cats, since I keep a bird feeder not because I like birds – I don’t – but for feline amusement. Their favorite perch is on the back of the couch, which has a nice view, but they also camp out at the front door, which lets them hear what’s going on outside as well. They chatter at birds and squirrels, and relentlessly hunt down any flies, moths or other buglike things that get in. My girls also subscribe to my philosophy of what I allow to share my space. I do not willingly share my home with any living thing visible to the naked eye whose natural complement of legs is less than two or more than four. They’re pretty good at taking care of the six-, eight- and more-legged things.

  8. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted August 29, 2020 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I live in Grand County, Utah and Cosmo has lived in our library for few years now. I will have to let the library staff know Cosmos showed up on WEIT. I am not sure they will want to publicize the news. The library is already suspect in the opinion of many residents.

  9. Posted August 29, 2020 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    See: Dewey, the library cat (1987-2006) of Spencer, Iowa!

  10. sugould
    Posted August 30, 2020 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Teaching the cat to walk outside on a leash. Was keeping up with her chase of a dragonfly, but on the final leap, the bungee-cord leash stopped her just short. She started chattering at the still out of reach dragonfly, and at me. They were clearly mutterings of annoyance and disapproval.

  11. merilee
    Posted August 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  12. Gary
    Posted August 30, 2020 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve assumed the chatter is signaling other cats to help hunt or a warning to their kin, including the puzzled humans, of potential danger. While cats may be solitary hunters, it’s easy to imagine a reproductive advantage if their kin also eat or survive the potentially dangerous encounter (Hamilton, 1964). So the cat chatters; the nearby cats go on alert. An obvious experiment would be for people with cameras to report if they see chattering when there are no other cats or people around.

    Also, it should be pointed out that the behavior need not be advantageous; it could be related to an advantageous behavior, but not in itself advantageous. It may be deleterious, but not yet fully deleted from the gene pool.

    I’m sure Jerry could correct and explain all of this better than I can with my 20 year old recollections of college evolutionary biology.

  13. Posted September 8, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I love watching my cats chatter at birds. I look out the window at what thay are looking at and at times I can’t see anything!


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