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Mountain Lion Sounds & Vocalizations: Why Do They Scream?

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Mountain lions are generally quiet, but they can make a variety of sounds. The sounds they make range from purring and meowing to petrifying screams. Mountain lions are most often heard during mating season. Screaming is one of the ways they “flirt”.

Mountain lions make many different sounds. Like other animals, they use these sounds to communicate with each other and intimidate threats.

Among their vocalizations are purrs, meowing, hissing, growling, whistling, and screaming. They are vocal when they need to be.

In this article, we’ll look into the many sounds that mountain lions make, we’ll find out what they mean and when they make them. Stick around for this and more.

What Do Mountain Lions Sound Like?

Mountain lions sound similar to common cats, but rougher and louder. These lions are huge compared to feline pets, and thanks to this their vocalizations are stronger. They have a deeper pitch which gives them a wild and intimidating sound. 

Not all mountain lions sound the same, as some are more intimidating than others.

The sounds that mountain lions make are similar to the sounds made by common cats. Like cats, they purr and meow. But they can’t roar.

Mountain lions are giants compared to the common cats we keep as pets. Because of their size, the sounds they make are also “bigger”. 

They are much louder, and their “voices” have a deeper, rougher tone, which expresses their strength. They have a fierce, wild sound.

Vocalizations differ from lion to lion. Their tones are distinguishable and can be noticeably different. The vocalizations they use differ too, as some mountain lions meow more than others.

What Do Mountain Lions Sound Like

What Sounds Do Mountain Lions Make?

Mountain lions use a variety of sounds depending on the situation. These sounds include meows, chirping, whistling, growling, hissing, snarling, and screaming. Many are used for intimidation, while screaming is used when mating.

Mountain lions are generally quiet animals, especially when hunting. They can however make a variety of noises. 

The sounds they make are diverse enough that they get mistaken for many other animals, from chirping birds to screaming women.

The different vocalizations of mountain lions can be placed into different categories, based on their purpose and on the type of sound.

Based on purpose or function we have two categories of sound:

  • Attention attracting calls: As the name implies, these sounds are used to attract attention. These calls are primarily used by females during mating season, to let the males know they are ready to mate. Cubs also use attention-attracting calls when they need their mother’s attention.[1]
  • Contact and alarm calls: These sounds are used by both males and females to enforce their control over territory by threatening other individuals. They are also used when encountering threats.

Based on the type of sound we can split them into five categories:

  1. Meows
  2. Purrs
  3. Whistling and chirping
  4. Hisses, growls, and snarls
  5. Screams

Here’s an overview of the sounds mountain lion make and their purpose:

SoundMotive
Meowing / Barking / CoughingUsed when relaxed to attract attention.
PurringContent mountain lions purr when relaxing, like common cats.
Whistling & ChirpingUsed when not in danger, mainly to find other lions and communicate from a distance.
Hissing, Growling, and SnarlingUsed as a warning when they feel threatened.
Screaming, Screeching, and YowlingUsed during mating, to find mates and during the act itself.

1. Meows

Mountain lions meow for the same reasons as common cats. Meows are usually cries for attention, and adult mountain lions generally don’t use them. They meow when they are relaxed or content. 

Mountain lions’ meows don’t sound like common cat meows. They are rougher and sound more like a light bark or cough. When they meow their size makes the sound stronger and raspier so it’s distinct from a cat’s meow.

2. Purrs

Purring, like some meows, is used by content or relaxed mountain lions. Mountain lions purr like pet cats, but about 20 times louder.

Mountain lions are the largest cats that purr. Other larger cats, like lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars can’t purr, but can instead roar.

3. Whistling and Chirping

Mountain lions can produce noises similar to birds chirping or human whistling. These sounds are used like meows and when lions call each other. They are contact calls that mountain lions make when they feel safe.

People confuse the chirping and whistling that mountain lions make with that of birds. This leaves them vulnerable, as they could unknowingly approach a mountain lion. 

Whistling and chirping are high-pitched and also resemble squirrel or chipmunk noises.

Whistling and chirping are more or less the same noise. A chirp is a short, suddenly stopped whistle.

4. Hisses, Growls, and Snarls

Like other felines, mountain lions use hisses, growls, and snarls when they feel threatened. They are used for intimidation and warnings for opponents that the lion will attack if necessary.

Hisses consist of an “s” sound that mountain lions continuously make while threatened. Growling is a low guttural sound, a big feline’s growl is intimidating. Snarls are more aggressive growls. 

These can be accompanied by snapping towards the threat and showing teeth.

Like a common cat, a mountain lion will spit while hissing.

5. Screams

Mountain lion screams are some of the most blood-curdling sounds you can hear in the wild. Coupled with the fact that mountain lions are most active at night, it can be a horrifying experience.

The screams they make are reminiscent of a woman screeching. They are not however sounds of fear or agony. 

Screams are a normal part of mating for mountain lions. Males scream while fighting over females, and both genders scream during mating.[2]

Mountain lions are solitary animals, and it can be hard to find a mate. When females are in heat, they use loud screams to call males. 

Screaming can be heard at any time of the year, as not all females go into heat at the same time.

Can Mountain Lions Roar?

No, mountain lions can’t roar. Only cats of the Panthera genus can roar, mountain lions belong to a different genus, named Puma. While they can’t roar, mountain lions can purr like common cats.

Although they are large cats mountain lions can’t roar. Roaring is possible thanks to a different hyoid bone, which allows cats from the Panthera genus to produce a loud, low, rumbling noise. 

Mountain lions’ hyoid bone resembles that of common cats, so they can purr instead of roar.[3]

Can Mountain Lions Roar

Baby Mountain Lion Sounds

Baby mountain lions make most of the sounds that adults do, although not as loud. They can sound much like common cat kittens, but they have rougher, raspier “voices”.

Mountain lion cubs are much more vocal than adults. They use different noises to call their mom when they’re hungry or need attention. They also make sounds while playing with each other.

To call their mom they use meows and chirps. They also chirp when they feel threatened. 

When they are relaxed they purr just like common kittens. When they are playing with their mom and siblings they hiss and growl at one another.

Why Do Mountain Lions Scream?

Mountain lions scream during the mating season and when fighting each other. When females are in heat they use screaming as an announcement to the males in the surrounding area. Males also scream when fighting for females.

Screaming is heard mostly when females are in heat. Female mountain lions scream to call males from around their area. They do this so it’s easier for them to find each other. 

While fighting for female attention males also scream. Screaming is a way of “flirting” for mountain lions. Both males and females also scream while mating.

Do Mountain Lions Make Noise While Hunting?

No, mountain lions generally try to stay as quiet as possible. They are ambush hunters, so they try to take their prey by surprise. For this reason, they walk slowly, on their toes, and don’t make any sounds.

Mountain lions are ambush hunters. This means they try to make as little noise as possible when stalking their prey. They generally stay silent and walk on their toes.

Some mountain lions have been observed using vocalizations while hunting. Theories behind this unusual behavior suggest that mothers with cubs sometimes vocalize. 

Making sounds while hunting is also a way to flush out the prey from hiding spots or an attempt to scare and freeze the target, for an easier chase.[4] This tactic can provide mountain lions with an easier meal.

Conclusion

Mountain lions are quiet predators, but they can make a lot of noise sometimes. They make a variety of sounds, including meows, growls, and even screams. They are noisiest when females are in heat. At this time females call males to them and “screaming matches” can be heard between them.

About Codrin Frunzete

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