Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

Many of us have seen the following YouTube clip of a barking cat:

If your reaction was like mine, you thought how strange, and how likely is that to happen again. I suppose a cat that’s often exposed to a dog might have a reason to go to all that trouble to bark, and I suppose we all laughed at the way the cat in the video seemed to feel he had been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to do, and quickly returned to speaking cat.

But my own cat has astonished me twice now, and not by barking. We have wild turkeys that often cross our backyard, and the cats love to watch them. They’ve been watching for a long time now, silent and fascinated.

But imagine my surprise when I discovered my cat Pris talking to the turkeys. She wasn’t embarrassed to be caught at it, and we stood watching in amazement until the turkeys vanished as she precisely imitated the sounds the turkeys make among themselves.

I wouldn’t call it a “gobble” sound. It’s more like a scratchy trill. It was so totally amazing to hear it issue from my cat on two occasions, and what’s more, this last time she kept it up for the five minutes it took for the turkey to vanish from her sight.

My cat talks turkey. Wow! I wish I had a video of it.

I started wondering why. Then it occurred to me she comes from a predatory species. Why wouldn’t a cat be able to imitate the calls of prey?

We’re steadily learning that a lot of species can imitate the sounds of other species, either for self-defense, for hunting, or simply because they enjoy it. And while dogs can occasionally be taught to do Scooby-Doo versions of “I ruv roo,” (one of mine could when he wanted to) we seldom think about what it means that a dog can understand, on average, 160 words of English (assuming the owner speaks English).

And we also seldom think about what it means that we don’t understand 160 words of dog, or cat. We make too many assumptions about what other species can’t do, when perhaps it’s our own species that can’t do it.

Just some food for thought.


Reader Comments Welcome.