Nov 6, 2014

The 3 Mimic in the Tree

Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird.

Not too long ago, I saw a small flock of Starlings land in the top of a tree. They were not foraging, but just seemed to be enjoying the morning sun. The Starlings had entered the territory of a Mockingbird who was none too pleased to see these illegal aliens. The Mockingbird began to scold them and drew the attention of a Brown Thrasher who decided to join in. The Starlings paid no attention to their chatter.  To my surprise, a Catbird flew up into the tree and joined in the verbal assault on the Starlings.  In all my years of bird watching, I do not think I have seen these three members of the Mimidae Family all together in the same tree. Starlings are originally from Europe, so I was surprised to learn that recent genetic testing reveal that they are related to our local Mimidae Family members. Starlings seem so different from Mockingbirds, Thrashers and Catbirds and I wonder if this had caused the family feud I witnessed.
Mockingbirds have thrived in the suburban habitat. They are as common as mailboxes in any neighborhood and not just here in the South. I am often asked “Why is it called the Northern Mockingbird when they live in the South?” The Northern Mockingbird ranges from the southern Canadian border to the southern tip of Mexico. They also can be found throughout the Caribbean. They do not migrate. There are other mockingbirds that live in Central and South America and that’s why ours is the Northern Mockingbird.  
Our gardens are well suited for Mockingbirds. They like to perch in a tree and fly down to the lawn to catch a bug. Their hunting behavior is similar to Bluebirds but Bluebirds like more open spaces. They will often flash their white shoulder patches to scare up insects in the grass. When I dig in the soil and find a grub, I like to toss it to the Mockingbirds. I have had Mockingbirds follow me when I pick up a shovel.  They are famous for their singing and infamous for singing at night.  Males who do not find a mate will sing all night. It is illegal to kill a Mockingbird but temporary insanity from sleep deprivation would be a good defense and the jury will be sympathetic.  They not only mimic other birds, but will repeat a phrase over and over and that can really drive you nuts.  Mockingbirds are very territorial and singing is also a way of declaring a territory. During nesting season don’t even think of going near a nest, especially if you are a cat. These feisty birds know to attack you from behind.  My Mockingbirds like to nest in my overgrown antique rose bushes.  Perhaps they know the thorns will deter predators. 
Mockingbirds often cause trouble around bird feeders by keeping other birds away. They normally are not seedeaters but they will eat mealworms, suet and peanut butter.  I think they do not like a bunch of other birds eating a free buffet in their territory.  If Mockingbirds become a problem at your feeders, move the peanut butter and suet to the other side of the house.
What I really love about Mockingbirds is their scientific name - Mimus polyglottos.  Mimus is Latin for mimic and from the Greek we have Polu or poly meaning many and glotta which is Greek for tongue.  So the Mockingbird name translates to mimic many tongues.  I like it when a scientific name is so well suited.

1 comment:

  1. Great! Good information and so easy to read.