Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Predators and Prey: How Do Cats Respond to Bird Sound Recordings?

Difficulty
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Specialty items
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Cats are great house pets, but as every cat observer knows, they are also instinctive hunters. This experiment provides an interesting way to learn about cat behavior. You'll play bird call recordings for pet cats, and watch to see if the cat pays attention to the sound (by turning towards it) or ignores it. Will a pet cat distinguish between the calls of local birds vs. non-local birds?

Objective

The goal of this project is to determine whether cats respond preferentially to familiar bird sounds.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Sources

  • This project is based on the following 2007 California State Science fair project, a winner of the Science Buddies Clever Scientist Award:

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Predators and Prey: How Do Cats Respond to Bird Sound Recordings?" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 30 June 2014. Web. 15 Sep. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/MamBio_p017.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 30). Predators and Prey: How Do Cats Respond to Bird Sound Recordings?. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/MamBio_p017.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-06-30

Introduction

This experiment is based on a 2007 California State Science Fair project by Kelly McGinnis. Kelly's mom was learning to recognize birds and bird calls by watching and listening to a DVD with recordings of birds in the wild. Kelly had the impression that her pet cat became alert and turned its head more often when it heard recordings of birds that were found in their area, and less often for birds that were unfamiliar. She was curious to find out if her hunch was correct, so she set up an experiment to find out.

She selected recordings from three different birds, two local, and one non-local. She used DVD recordings, with both sound and video, and played these test recordings for each of the 32 cats in her study, using a laptop computer. The order of presentation was randomized for each cat tested. She played the recordings for either three minutes or until the cat made an orienting response to the recording (i.e., seemed to search for the bird, by moving its head or body toward the computer).

You could do the experiment with a DVD, as Kelly did, or with an audio CD of bird calls, using a portable CD player to play back the sounds. It's a good idea to have a large sample of cats, like Kelly did, and you may want to select even more bird calls to try. For example, you might want to select three different local bird calls and three different non-local bird calls to test with each cat.

Do you think that cats will pay more attention to bird calls that they have heard before? Or perhaps a novel bird call will prove to be more interesting? You can find out for yourself with this experiment.

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and concepts:

  • Predatory behavior in cats
  • Stimulus
  • Orienting response
  • Bird calls
  • Bird identification
  • Ornithology

Questions

  • What bird species are native to your area?
  • What bird species pass through your area during migration, and when?

Bibliography

  • To learn more about predatory behavior in cats, try these webpages:
  • For identifying birds, the Peterson field guides are a valuable resource (various publication dates and titles, typical examples follow):
    • Peterson, R.T., 2002. A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.
    • Peterson, R.T., 1990. A Field Guide to Western Birds: A Completely New Guide to Field Marks of All Species Found in North America West of the 100th Meridian and North of Mexico. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • Here's an online guide to identifying birds that includes audio clips of calls for many of the birds:
    eNature.com, 2005. "FieldGuides: Birds," eNature.com [accessed October 1, 2007] http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/intermediate.asp?curGroupID=1.
  • You can also study birds online:
    CLO, 2007. "All About Birds," Cornell Lab of Ornithology [accessed June 8, 2007] http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/.
  • This project is based on the following 2007 California State Science fair project, a winner of the Science Buddies Clever Scientist Award:
    McGinnis, K., 2007. "Domestic Cat (Felis catus) Responses to Bird Sounds ," California State Science Fair Abstract [accessed June 8, 2007] http://www.usc.edu/CSSF/History/2007/Projects/J1119.pdf.

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

  • At least 20 domestic cats to test (more is better)
  • Audio recordings of bird songs, e.g. Borror, D.J., "Common Bird Songs Book and Audio CD," ISBN: 0486996093, available from Dover Publications
  • Portable CD player

Disclaimer: Science Buddies occasionally provides information (such as part numbers, supplier names, and supplier weblinks) to assist our users in locating specialty items for individual projects. The information is provided solely as a convenience to our users. We do our best to make sure that part numbers and descriptions are accurate when first listed. However, since part numbers do change as items are obsoleted or improved, please send us an email if you run across any parts that are no longer available. We also do our best to make sure that any listed supplier provides prompt, courteous service. Science Buddies does participate in affiliate programs with Amazon.comsciencebuddies, Carolina Biological, and AquaPhoenix Education. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501( c ) 3 public charity. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science fair projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Do your background research so that you are familiar with the terms, concepts, and questions, above.
    1. You will need to spend some time identifying local birds that the cats in your study are likely to have encountered.
    2. You will also need to identify some non-local birds that the cats in your study are unlikely to have encountered.
  2. Pick 2-3 examples of local bird songs from your audio CD.
  3. Pick 2-3 examples of bird songs from birds not found in your area.
  4. For each cat in the study, play each of the recordings, in randomized order, at least three times (again, more trials are even better). Naturally, you must test each cat when it is awake and alert!
    1. To randomize the presentation order, first number (or name) each recording.
    2. Write the numbers (or names) down on separate pieces of paper.
    3. Mix up the slips of paper, and blindly draw them from a bowl to determine the presentation order for each test.
  5. Observe the cat closely, and note the responses to each recording in your lab notebook.
  6. You should test at least 20 different cats (more is better). For more information, see the Science Buddies How-To page, Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need?
  7. It is a good idea to allow the cat some down time in between the trials, so that it does not become habituated to the recordings. Multiple, short trials will probably work best.
  8. After your tests are complete, you'll need to analyze and summarize the results in your lab notebook.
    1. For each cat, count how many orienting responses were made to each different bird sound.
    2. For all of the cats, what was the average number of orienting responses to each bird sound?
    3. More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation of the number of responses.
  9. Make bar graphs showing the average number of orienting responses to each bird sound. Did the cats respond preferentially to local birds?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • You can also find DVD recordings of birds, with both sounds and images. You can play clips from selected local and non-local birds for cats using a laptop computer. Does the addition of the images increase the likelihood of an orienting response? Are the cats more likely to respond to local vs. non-local birds?
  • Does it make a difference if the cat tested is an indoor-only cat vs. a cat who gets outside? You'll need two test groups for this experiment, each with at least 20 cats. One group needs to be indoor-only pets, and the other group must be cats who are allowed outside. Compare the test results between the two groups. Does outdoor experience make a difference in orienting repsonses to bird sounds?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

female biologist plotting animal range data on computer

Biologist

Life is all around you in beauty, abundance, and complexity. Biologists are the scientists who study life in all its forms and try to understand fundamental life processes, and how life relates to its environment. They answer basic questions, like how do fireflies create light? Why do grunion fish lay their eggs based on the moon and tides? What genes control deafness? Why don't cancer cells die? How do plants respond to ultraviolet light? Beyond basic research, biologists might also apply their research and create new biotechnology. There are endless discoveries waiting to be found in the field of biology! Read more
animal trainer scientist image

Animal Trainer

Do you have a favorite pet food commercial or animal movie in which the animals do something really cool or cute? Animal trainers are responsible for these amazing animal performances. Animal trainers get involved in much more than the fun world of entertainment, though; they are also involved in the serious business of training animals for search and rescue missions, bomb and drug detection, criminal capture, and service to help people with disabilities. Read more
wildlife biologist holding goslings

Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist

Ever wondered what wild animals do all day, where a certain species lives, or how to make sure a species doesn't go extinct? Zoologists and wildlife biologists tackle all these questions. They study the behaviors and habitats of wild animals, while also working to maintain healthy populations, both in the wild and in captivity. Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity