Mimic Birds

As you walk through the Nature Preserve, you may hear a veritable flock of different birds singing at the same time.  Sometimes you truly are hearing different birds, such as House Wrens, Bluebirds, Carolina Wrens, House Finches, Cardinals and Chipping Sparrows.  However, if all those birds seem to be singing from the same branch in the same tree, you may be listening to a concert by the Northern Mockingbird.How can you tell if one bird is making all those sounds or not?  Count how many times the song is repeated.  If you hear the same song three or more times, then switch to another song three or four times, you have a Mockingbird.  These birds also sing at night, but it’s just the young bachelors having an all night party.  As soon as they find mates, the females will make them stay home at night!  I intended to have sound for each bird, as well as photos, but ran into some serious technical difficulties when trying to get the it to work in Blogger. Sorry ’bout that. If you would like to hear the song anyway, when you finish reading this post, go to eNature.com and search for the bird by name.  They have terrific resources.

If you have Mockingbirds at home, you know they can be quite aggressive.  Mine will chase all the other birds away from the feeder when he’s hungry, or even if he isn’t hungry.  After all, it’s a matter of territorial rights!  Occasionally a Mockingbird will stand on the ground, and raise his wings up for a bit, then put them down again. I call it the Batman move, as if Batman is holding his cape out.  The theory for this behavior is that the shade under his wings fools insects into coming out to be eaten. It’s a good opportunity for the bird watcher to see the bold white wingbars while the bird stands still.  Mockingbirds have also been know to imitate cell phone rings, so don’t be surprised to answer your phone and have no one there.

Another mimic bird is the Brown Thrasher. Brown Thrashers may be confused with thrushes but are larger, have longer tails, and are streaked (not spotted) below. They belong to the same family as the Mockingbird but, unlike that species, are retiring and secretive. They often feed on the ground, scattering dead leaves with their beaks as they search for insects. In recent years they have become scarce in much of their range; no one knows why. When it sings, it repeats a phrase only twice.

The Gray Catbird gives a long, irregular succession of musical and mechanical notes and phrases, but listen for the cat-like mewing. Sometimes it seems to mimic other birds. This bird is often seen in suburban gardens where It forages mainly on the ground, gleaning insects from litter and low bushes and eating fallen berries during late summer and fall. It does not uncover litter with its feet like a sparrow but pokes with its bill, turning leaves and twigs to find the food underneath. Formerly known simply as the “Catbird,” this bird has had its name changed officially to Gray Catbird because there is an all-black species, the Black Catbird, in southern Mexico. (After all, we don’t want anyone in Kentucky to get confused, now, do we?)  It often announces its presence by a harsh, cat-like whine issuing from a dense tangle of vegetation; the bird responds to an imitation of this call, popping suddenly into view for a better look.

Although sometimes disliked because they chase smaller birds away from feeders, Blue Jays are among the handsomest of birds. They often bury seeds and acorns, and since many are never retrieved they are, in effect, tree planters. They regularly mob predators, and their raucous screaming makes it easy to locate a hawk or a roosting owl. Although seen all year, they are migratory and travel in large loose flocks in spring and fall. They make raucous jay-jay, harsh cries, and a rich variety of other calls. One is almost identical to the scream of the Red-shouldered Hawk, and suckers me in every time! I remember the more musical tweedle-dee call from my grandmother’s farm as a child.

Naturally yours,