What to See Now: Mockingbirds

Mockingbirds never sing the entire song of birds they mimic. Instead, they choose a short sequence of phrases from each bird’s song.

YOTB_stacked_KIn celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.

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Mockingbirds never sing the entire song of birds they mimic. Instead, they choose a short sequence of phrases from each bird’s song. Photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

Dawn washes slowly across the Crow Valley Campground in northeast Colorado. Soon the morning quiet is shattered by a symphony of bird song. Listening carefully, one can hear snippets of meadowlark, blackbird, sparrow, warbler and at least a dozen more songbirds. The singing continues for nearly an hour, interrupted only by brief pauses. What sounds like a chorus of birds is actually a single crooner serenading from the top of a cottonwood tree.

Superficially he is an ordinary bird: Gray like a pigeon but less colorful, medium-sized like a thrush but less handsome, long-tailed like a magpie but less spectacular, he is rather pedestrian. But when it comes to showmanship, he is awesome. His scientific and common names attest to his stunning pageantry.

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Each year a male retains only one-third to two-thirds of his song repertoire from the previous breeding season.

He is a northern mockingbird, known among scientists as Mimus polyglottos. His generic name translates from Latin to “mimic” and his specific name derives from the ancient Greek word polyglottos meaning “many-tongued.” On this crisp, clear May morning, I am treated to a many-tongued melody. If I lived in an urban area, I might also hear the hum of a motor, the creak of a door or toot of a horn. If I lived more rurally I might hear the bark of a dog, the mew of a cat or the croak of a frog. But mostly mockingbirds mimic the songs of other birds to create a melody that is uniquely their own.

This is an excerpt from the March/April 2018 issue of Colorado Outdoors. Click Mar-Apr 2017-Mockingbirds to see the whole article by Bruce Gill.

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