One of the world's smallest cats chirps like a wee bird, first-ever audio recording reveals

The smallest wild cat in the Western Hemisphere is about the size of a domestic house cat, with tiny, rounded ears, a face resembling a cheetah cub's, and a bushy, striped tail. It also sounds remarkably like a chirping bird; you can hear its burbling chirrups in a new recording, thought to be the first published audio of these endearing vocalizations.

Known as a güiña (Leopardus guigna), a kodkod and a Chilean cat, this pint-size feline is native to temperate forests in southern and central Chile, and in western Argentina. And it recently became the 10,000th species to be photographed for the National Geographic Photo Ark, a database of animal portraits celebrating global biodiversity, by photographer Joel Sartore.

Sartore's thousands of animal portraits, collected over more than a decade, call attention to the beauty of a wide range of species from across the animal kingdom. His images of the graceful güiña are no exception, and his session with the photogenic feline produced the first known recording of the little cat's voice, National Geographic representatives said in a statement.

Related: Meet the rare and fabulous felines of 'Super Cats' (photos)

Güiñas weigh between 3 and 7 pounds (2 and 3 kilograms); their bodies are up to about 1.7 feet (52 centimeters) long and their tails are up to 0.8 feet (25 cm) in length, according to Animal Diversity Web (ADW), a natural history and classification database maintained by the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology. These small cats have large feet and claws, which help them climb trees in their temperate forest habitats, ADW says.

Because the cats are "rare and secretive," little is known about how they communicate, according to ADW. 

The güiña is the 10,000th species in the National Geographic Photo Ark.

The güiña is the 10,000th species in the National Geographic Photo Ark. (Image credit: © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark)

Sartore took the Photo Ark's first photo — a naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) — in 2006; the 1,000th was a California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and the 5,000th was a Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor). Ultimately, the Photo Ark will document 15,000 species, representing mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates, according to the project website.

With these portraits, Sartore hopes not only to create a visual record of biodiversity, but also to connect people with endangered and vulnerable species that are threatened by human activity, and to engage people in protecting wild places and species before they disappear forever. 

"It's the eye contact that moves people," Sartore said in the statement. "It engages their feelings of compassion and a desire to help." 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Mindy Weisberger
Live Science Contributor

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.  Her book "Rise of the Zombie Bugs: The Surprising Science of Parasitic Mind Control" will be published in spring 2025 by Johns Hopkins University Press.