The Master Mimic

One thing I like about being off for summer is that I don’t have much of a routine. After having a strict schedule of teaching and taking classes for a majority of the year, it’s a very welcome break. There is one routine that I tend to pick up while I’m home each summer that I really enjoy: the Daily Mockingbird.

Around this time of year I see at least 2 Northern Mockingbirds a day. It doesn’t matter what the weather is or where I’m going; there’s always a Mockingbird somewhere. It used to be a random thing, but now I’m starting to notice some regulars in the same spots around the same time of day. It always makes me smile, because I’m a fan of of the Mimidae family of birds, which the Northern Mockingbird is a member of. So today, I wanted to share some fun facts about this fascinating bird.

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Northern Mockingbird (Image via wikipedia.org)
  1. Northern Mockingbirds like to be the center of attention.

Mockingbirds are pretty conspicuous. They like to make their presence known by finding the highest perch around to sing their songs. Although they like to be the center of attention, they do not appreciate intruders in their territory. They are very aggressive and not afraid to attack other birds, dogs, cats, and even humans who venture to close. They prefer to spend their time in large open fields and lawns, where they hop, walk, and run around to find insects.

2. Although they look pretty plain, they have some pretty impressive wing patches.

Northern Mockingbirds are a pale gray overall with white underparts. They have something pretty cool under their wings though: large white wing patches. These patches make Northern Mockingbirds pretty easy to identify while in flight. They will use the “wing flash” display  frequently, where they will open their wings either fully or halfway. We are not sure why exactly they do this. A theory is that they use their white patches to startle insects to make them easier to catch. They may also prance towards an intruder slowly flashing their white patches.

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A Mockingbird uses the “wing flash” display (Image by Kelly Colgan Azar via ebirdr.com)

3. Northern Mockingbirds are masters at mimicking others and sing really impressive songs.

Mockingbirds are appropriately named. They are professionals at mimicking the sounds of other birds and frogs that live in the area. Their songs are made up of short phrases that may be repeated 2-6 times before they pause and start a new sound. Mockingbirds learn new songs throughout their lives and may learn up to 200 different songs. Both males and females sing. Males will sing from February to August, then again from September to November. They have different sets of songs for spring and autumn. Females usually sing in the autumn in a quieter voice. Their songs may get quite long and Mockingbirds will sing all throughout the the day into the evening.

4. They are not only good at singing animal sounds, though.

Although they mainly imitate other birds, Northern Mockingbirds also imitate unnatural sounds. Some examples include sirens, squeaky gates, and cameras. Another animal sound they are know for is imitating barking dogs.

Northern Mockingbird
Singing away… (image by Lillian Stokes via stokesbirdingblog.blogspot.com)

5. Unmated males are particularly determined singers.

Not only will they sing during the day, but unmated males are known to be nocturnal singers. They will sing throughout the night to be more attractive to potential mates. They tend to sing nocturnally during the  full moon. Nocturnal singers can sing up to 1,000 songs per hour!

6. Northern Mockingbirds used to be pretty popular pets.

From the late 1700s to the early 1900s, people would cage Mockingbirds as pets. People were attracted to their beautiful songs. They were so popular that they almost disappeared in the wild in some parts of the East Coast. Some particularly impressive singers would sell for around $50! Thankfully, they are no longer pets and have become widespread again. In recent years they have expanded their range northward.

On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, the first paragraph about Northern Mockingbirds states: “These slender-bodied gray birds apparently pour all their color into their personalities.” I couldn’t agree more. Northern Mockingbirds have really interesting personalities, and I think it’s safe to say they deserve the title of “Master Mimic.”

Do you have a Northern Mockingbird that lives nearby? Tell me about your Mockingbird experiences in the comment section.

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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