Have you ever been kept awake at night by a mysterious meowing or yowling sound outside your window? If so, you may be wondering what animal makes noises like a cat at night. In this comprehensive article, we will examine the most likely nighttime ‘copycat’ culprits and provide audio clips so you can identify the animal.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The animals that most often mimic cat sounds at night are foxes, rabbits, raccoons, mountain lions, owls, and fishers.

Foxes

Red Foxes

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the most common and widespread species of fox across North America. These foxes have rusty red fur on their back, sides, and tail, as well as white fur on their chest and belly. Red foxes are very adaptable and can thrive in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

They are omnivorous and eat small mammals like mice and voles, birds, fruits, insects, and even fish. Red foxes make a wide variety of vocalizations, but are most known for their barking “yip” sounds.

Red foxes are primarily nocturnal and do most of their hunting and scavenging at night. However, they can sometimes be seen during the day, especially in urban areas where they have become accustomed to human presence. Red foxes are solitary hunters and typically live alone or in mated pairs.

They establish and defend territories of 2 to 5 square miles. Red foxes do not hibernate in the winter. Instead, they remain active all year long.

The main reason that red fox vocalizations may be mistaken for a cat in the night is because of their wide range of sounds. Foxes use different calls and cries to communicate with each other. Some fox noises can sound like screeching, screaming, howling, or whining.

Kits (baby foxes) in particular make high pitched whines and whimpers when calling for their mother. Additionally, red foxes can make rattling, raspy gagging sounds during the mating season. When close to human settlements, these various fox calls may be misidentified as stray or feral cats.

Gray Foxes

The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is a species of fox found across most of the southern and eastern United States. Gray foxes have salt-and-pepper gray fur on their back and sides, reddish fur on the neck and legs, and a black stripe along the top of their tail.

Compared to red foxes, gray foxes are smaller and have more cat-like features, like retractable claws. Gray foxes are adept climbers and can scamper up trees to escape predators.

Gray foxes are primarily nocturnal, but can also be active during twilight hours. They eat rodents, rabbits, birds and their eggs, insects, fruits, nuts, and berries. Gray foxes make a variety of different vocalizations like barking, growling, and screeching.

During mating season, they emit loud, shrill screaming noises. Gray foxes use hollow logs, small caves, abandoned burrows, or dense thickets as dens to raise their young.

The noises made by gray foxes can easily be confused for cats yowling or screeching at night. This is because gray fox vocalizations encompass a wide range of sounds from high-pitched wails to guttural growls and barks.

Additionally, wild or feral cats often inhabit similar wooded, brushy, and edge habitats as gray foxes. So screams and cries coming from a nearby tree or shrubbery may actually be a gray fox rather than a cat.

Rabbits

Rabbits are common backyard animals that can sometimes make noises at night that sound similar to a cat. Here’s a closer look at why rabbits vocalize at night and how to tell their sounds apart from felines.

Why Rabbits Make Noise at Night

There are a few reasons why domestic and wild rabbits become more vocal after dark:

  • Territorial behavior – Unneutered male rabbits may make growling or grunting sounds to establish territory and attract mates.
  • Startled response – Rabbits make loud, high-pitched squeals or screams when they are frightened by a predator or sudden movement.
  • Communication – Social rabbits use various murmuring sounds to communicate with each other in the evening when they are most active.
  • Hunger – Baby rabbits separated from their mother may cry out with an abrasive, cat-like wailing due to hunger or fear.

Distinguishing Rabbit Noises

While some rabbit vocals can sound similar to a cat’s meowing or crying, there are subtle differences:

  • Rabbits make more guttural growling, grunting, or high-pitched screaming sounds compared to a cat’s meow.
  • Cat meows have an undulating, rhythmic cadence while rabbits make short, sporadic squeals.
  • Rabbits are unlikely to meow consistently for long periods the way a lonely or hungry cat will.
  • Cats often meow with their mouths closed, while crying baby rabbits have a more wide-mouthed wail.

In many cases, catching a visual confirmation of the soundmaker is the best way to determine if it is a rabbit or feline. Distressed rabbits may also be seen racing through the yard or garden after being frightened by a loud noise or perceived threat.

This can help confirm odd night noises are coming from a lagomorph rather than the neighborhood tabby.

Raccoons

Raccoons are one of the most common animals that can sound like a cat at night. They are found across much of North and Central America and have become well-adapted to living alongside humans, often making their homes in attics or chimneys.

Here’s a closer look at why raccoons vocalizations may be mistaken for a cat.

Raccoon Noises

Raccoons have a wide variety of vocalizations that help them communicate with each other. Some of their more cat-like noises include:

  • Purring – Mother raccoons purr while nursing their young. The sound is similar to a cat’s purr but a bit louder and raspy.
  • Screeching – Raccoons will screech when fighting or defending themselves. The noise is harsh and piercing, similar to a cat fight.
  • Meowing – Young raccoons often meow to get their mother’s attention. It sounds nearly identical to a kitten’s cry.

In addition, raccoons also growl, snarl, whimper, hiss, and make distinctive “crying” sounds. The variety of vocalizations can make it challenging to determine if the noises are coming from a raccoon or a cat.

When Are Raccoons Most Vocal?

Raccoons are nocturnal creatures, so they are most active and vocal at night. In spring, heightened raccoon noises can be heard during mating season. Female raccoons looking for dens to birth their young also wander and vocalize more in early summer.

In fall, young raccoons still with their mothers make many noises while foraging for food.

So if you hear unusual cat-like noises coming from your attic or yard at night, chance are good a raccoon is the culprit, not a stray cat on the loose. Raccoon sounds most often occur between sunset and sunrise.

How to Tell the Difference

Distinguishing a raccoon’s vocalizations from a cat takes some experience. Here are a few ways to help identify the source:

  • Listen for a raspy quality – Raccoons make more harsh, rasping sounds compared to a cat’s cries.
  • Note chatter mixed with meows – Raccoons also chitter and chatter, unlike a meowing cat.
  • Check for multiple sounds – Several raccoons together can make a variety of synchronized noises.
  • Watch for moving sounds – Raccoon sounds on the roof or in trees seem to move around as they forage.

If you’re still unsure if it’s a raccoon or cat, try to glimpse the animal making the noise. Raccoons less than a year old may still be mistaken for kittens at first due to their size. But an adult raccoon will have the telltale bushy ringed tail and mask-like markings on its face.

Raccoons may be messy and bothersome neighbors, but their vocalizations are just part of their complex social communication. With some knowledge of raccoon sounds, you can rest easier knowing that late night “cat” noises are likely just these clever masked bandits going about their nightly mischief!

Mountain Lions

Mountain lions, also known as cougars, panthers, catamounts, or pumas, are large wild cats that live across the Americas. They make sounds at night that can resemble the meows and cries of domestic cats.

Vocalizations

Mountain lions have a range of vocalizations they use to communicate with each other. Some key sounds to listen for at night include:

  • Meows, mews, and other house cat-like vocalizations. Mountain lions can produce surprisingly high-pitched chirps and chattering sounds.
  • Screams and wails. These eerie, human-like sounds are made when mountain lions are looking for mates or marking their territory.
  • Growls and hisses, often made during confrontations with other mountain lions.
  • Purrs, made to comfort their young kittens.

So if you hear unusual cat-like noises at night, especially coupled with some unnerving screeches, a mountain lion may be nearby!

When Mountain Lions are Most Vocal

Mountain lions tend to be most vocal under certain circumstances when it’s dark out:

  • Breeding season – From December to March, mountain lions call out to potential mates.
  • With young kittens – Female mountain lions make nurturing sounds to comfort kittens.
  • Marking territory – Screams and growls warn other mountain lions away.
  • Making a kill – Aggressive vocalizations are made when attacking prey.

So if you hear odd cries at night that sound like a cat, be extra alert during winter breeding months or if mountain lion kittens have been spotted in the area.

Safety Tips

While mountain lion attacks on people are rare compared to other wildlife hazards, it’s smart to follow safety precautions if you hear noises that might be a mountain lion at night:

  • Keep pets indoors or supervise them in fenced areas
  • Install outdoor lighting to keep vision clear in the darkness
  • Travel in groups if outside at night and keep children close
  • Report daytime mountain lion sightings to wildlife authorities right away

Following these common-sense tips, you can rest easy even if your neighborhood mountain lion goes meow in the night!

Owls

Owls are nocturnal birds of prey that are known for their distinctive hooting calls. There are over 200 species of owls worldwide, and some of the most common owls heard making noises at night in North America include:

Barn Owls

Barn owls (Tyto alba) are medium-sized owls with heart-shaped faces and light-colored plumage. They make raspy screeching noises that sound like screams. Barn owls hunt by flying low over open fields and meadows listening for prey rustling in vegetation below.

Once they detect prey, they dive down swiftly on silent wings to catch mice, voles and other small mammals.

Barn owls are among the most widespread owl species and can be found in most regions of North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Their eerie screeches often startle people at night who aren’t expecting such a loud and unnatural sound coming from an owl!

Barred Owls

Barred owls (Strix varia) are stocky, medium-sized owls native to eastern North America. They get their name from the horizontal brown and white barring pattern on their chest feathers. Barred owls have dark brown eyes and round heads without ear tufts.

Barred owls make a distinctive call often described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” The calls start with a low hoot that rises in pitch at the end. These owls make their calls both during the day and night since they are not as nocturnal as some other owl species.

Barred owls can be heard calling to mark their territories and attract mates.

These highly vocal owls live in dense woodland forests throughout the eastern and central United States as well as southeastern Canada. They mainly feed on small mammals, but also eat birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Great Horned Owls

Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) are large, powerful owls with prominent ear tufts on their head. They have yellow eyes and mottled brownish-gray plumage that provides good camouflage against tree bark. Great horned owls are among the most widespread predatory birds in North America.

These owls make a deep hooting sound written as “hoo-hoo-hoo hoo.” The calls are resonant and can carry for miles. Great horned owls are most vocal in late winter and early spring during breeding season. They call to attract mates and define territories.

Great horned owls hunt at night for rabbits, hares, squirrels, rodents and other medium-sized prey. They have extremely sharp talons and powerful legs that enable them to seize and kill animals larger than themselves. These owls often inhabit abandoned nests in trees, cliffs and caves.

Fishers

Fishers, a member of the weasel family found primarily in North America, are one wild animal that some claim sounds like a domestic cat’s wail at night. With a bushy tail and short legs similar to their weasel relatives, fishers have coarse dark brown fur and can reach up to four feet in length.

While quite elusive, their distinctive shrill screams in the late hours have led them to gain a reputation among campers and hikers for mimicking the cries of a feline.

When disturbed or on the hunt, fishers unleash piercing, hair-raising shrieks, with fluctuating, almost human-like pitches. Several online blogs and audio collections compare these fisher cat noises to a “baby getting murdered” or liken them to fictional banshees.

Though alarming, these cries likely serve important communication functions among fishers, who are typically solitary creatures that become more social during mating season between March and April.

So if you hear blood-curdling screams emanating through the woods at night that sound like a woman or crying infant, chances are it’s no monster, ghost, or wandering domestic cat but simply the banshee-esque bellows of foraging fishers on the prowl!

Just another example of Mother Nature’s extraordinary and sometimes spine-tingling animal mash-up melodies that echo in darkness.

Range and Habitat

Once over-trapped for their valuable furs, fishers have made an impressive resurgence and can now be found in forested areas across much of the United States and Canada. From Nova Scotia down into North Carolina, westward across Canada to the Pacific Northwest, and in isolated mountainous regions like the Sierra Nevada range, fishers inhabit zones of dense conifer and mixed hardwood forests interspersed with hollowed logs, rocky dens, and treetop canopies.

With the help of conservation programs, particularly reintroduction efforts in the western United States, fisher populations have rebounded substantially since the early 20th century. Their ability to recolonize their historical habitats is vitally connected to the availability of large continuous forest cover to support their activities like resting, hunting, and rearing young.

As apex predators of North American forests, healthy fisher numbers also indicate robust overall ecosystem functioning.

Northern States and Provinces Southern States
Maine Virginia
Vermont West Virginia
New Hampshire Kentucky
Minnesota Tennessee
Wisconsin North Carolina
Michigan

The table above shows some of the northern versus more southern state habitat ranges for modern-day fishers in the eastern United States following nearly a century of conservation efforts. From New England through the Upper Midwest and southward along higher elevation Appalachian forests, fishers have regained footing in ample suitable woodland areas.

Hunting and Diet

Fishers are opportunistic predators with a varied menu ranging from snowshoe hares to porcupines to squirrels, mice, and birds. They have even been documented preying on larger deer and house cats! Stealthy hunters, fishers pursue prey both in trees and on the forest floor, aided by their reversible hind paws that help them climb headfirst back down tree trunks.

To kill larger prey like porcupines, which make up a significant portion of the fisher’s diet in northern parts of its territory, the fisher flips the porcupine onto its back to expose the vulnerable underside free from quills. It then delivers killing neck bites to the head and face.

Fishers also feast on berries, mushrooms, and carrion to supplement their carnivorous tastes.

So while a fisher’s screams can invoke folkloric supernatural beings, the reality is these members of the weasel clan use their nocturnal shrieks for purposes way more natural and ordinary than including spooking campers!

Their chilling cries likely assist with communication regarding mating, defending territories, or coordinating ambitious porcupine hunts under the dark forest canopy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while cats make an array of vocalizations, many wild animals can produce sounds that resemble feline meows, yowls, chirps, and trills. Familiarizing yourself with the night noises of local wildlife will help you identify the source of any late-night ‘meows’ outside your home.

With this guide as a reference, you’ll no longer have to wonder ‘what animal sounds like a cat at night?’

Similar Posts