Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Northern Mockingbird: An Ardent Songster

If you can't recall what the song of the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) sounds like, you need only hear one sing again in order to jog your memory.  It is a familiar song to many bird enthusiasts across the entire United States.
Northern Mockingbirds sing during the spring and summer to secure mates and during the fall to defend their feeding territory; often a male will have differing spring and fall songs.  Mockingbirds sing during the day, and unmated males will sing during the night as well, especially during a full moon.  What they lack in flashy plumage they more than make up for in colorful song!  Mockingbirds sing their own songs as well as mimic those of other birds.  A male mockingbird can learn up to 200 different songs in his lifetime.  It's an amusing sight to watch Scrub Jay calls come from a Mockingbird!

This particular Mockingbird was watching me work in the front yard, singing his heart out from the top of a shrub in true Mockingbird style.  These birds are anything but shy; they often choose prominent perches from which to sing, and flash bright white wing spots as they fly.  They're also tenacious little birds, not afraid to confront other birds, even mammals like house cats, in defense of their territory.  They don't hesitate to chase away other Mockingbirds (especially when a female is defending her nest) and readily give chase to larger birds as well.  Yesterday, I watched a Mockingbird noisily chase away a larger Yellow-billed Magpie.
I think I learned to recognize a Mockingbird by the time I was about four years old, along with Scrub Jays and Magpies.  This trio of species was common around our neighborhood, and growing up they became so familiar to me that they just sort of faded into the background.  But all three species are beautiful, clever, adaptable birds and they deserve more appreciation than they usually receive.  So next time you hear that familiar song, look around for a smallish gray bird perched in a conspicuous spot and remember it's never wasted time to stop and listen to a Mockingbird sing!

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