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Lesson Seven: Copy Cat

What songs or sounds can birds copy?

National Science Education Standards

Content Standard A: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Understanding about scientific inquiry.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.

Content Standard C: Life Science

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Organisms and their environments

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Characteristics and changes in populations
  • Changes in environments

Objectives: NCSCOS Science

Competency Goal One: The learner will conduct investigations and build an understanding of animal life cycle.

Competency Goal Four: The learner will conduct investigations and use appropriate technology to build an understanding of the concepts of sound.

NCSCOS Music Objectives

GOAL 6: The learner will listen to, analyze, and describe music. (National Standard 6)

  • 6.03 Use appropriate terminology in explaining music, music notation, music instruments and voices, and music performances.
  • 6.07 Show respect while listening to and analyzing music.

GOAL 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts. (National Standard 8)

  • 8.02 Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.


Some types of birds imitate calls and songs from other birds.

Background information for teachers:

The Northern Mockingbird is known for its mimicry. It imitates not only birds but also other animals and mechanical sounds such as car alarms. As convincing as these imitations may be to humans, they often fail to fool other birds. The Northern Mockingbird's mimicry is likely to serve as a tool for increasing the size of its repertoire and thus its ability to attract females. The mockingbird is limited to imitating short units of sound, which it repeats several times before moving on to a new sound. As a result, the mockingbird sounds much better (to a human ear) imitating some species than others. Species with repetitive songs are effectively copied, but species with long, complex songs cannot be effectively imitated by the mockingbird.

The Northern Mockingbird, in addition to being a good mimic, is also one of the loudest and most constantly vocal of birds. It often sings through the night, especially unmated males, or when the moon is full. It sings year-round except sometimes for the late-summer molting season. Individual males have repertoires of 50 to 200 songs; females sing as well, but more quietly and less often than males. Mockingbirds usually sing the loudest in the twilight of the early morning when the sun is on the horizon. Mockingbirds make a harsh, raspy noise when chasing other birds out of their territory. A similar but distinct call is used when defending against predators like a hawk or falcon. Other calls include a wheezing noise, a "chuck" note, and a very piercing series of notes "high low" repeated twice.

Blue Jays use their skill of being able to copy other birds for several reasons. The Blue Jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. These calls may provide information to other jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present so that they can eat.


  • Mimic – constituting an imitation for effect
  • Echo – a reflection of sound, arriving at the listener some time after the direct sound


  • Binoculars
  • Bird field guides
  • Nature journal
  • Camera


45 minutes

Process Skills:

  • Observe
  • Communicate
  • Measure
  • Predict

Procedure: (Engage, Explore)

  • Read a book about birds.
  • Discuss how the male is usually the singer but sometimes the female will call back to him.
  • Tell students that they will be going on a nature walk to find and listen to birds.
  • Model how to use the binoculars and field guides.
  • Go outside and sit quietly watching and waiting for birds. Record results in your science notebook. (Try to go early in the morning to increase chances of bird activity)

Class Reflection: (Explain)

  • What types of birds did you see?
  • What did you notice about the calls or songs you heard?

Elaborate: (Extend)

Authentic Assessment: (Evaluate)

Group participation

Science notebook record of observations.