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.

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.

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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