To Kill a Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottus

perchedmockingbird001
Not the best image, but here is a typical mockingbird singing in a conspicuous location

Some fictional character from some book once said that it is wrong to kill a mockingbird because all it does is sing to make us happy. Wrong! The mockingbird sings as an act of territorial aggression, among other reasons, but territory is certainly an important part of it.[i] Sure, we might like the song as it sounds pretty (sometimes) but I assure it is not for our enjoyment. And then there are their aggressive screams[ii] when it attacks another bird – or anything else unlucky enough to get to close to the nest. And no, that is not really pretty at all, unless maybe you like that noise, in which case, I am guessing you would probably like country music too, or perhaps Nickelback, or maybe both. It’s both, isn’t it? Well, since there’s no accounting for taste, so go ahead listen to that screeching thing. Anything deemed as a threat is attacked, mercilessly, and anything that strays anywhere near the nest is attacked even if it obviously not a predator. Also, anything that gets too close to the nest is remembered and if the mockingbird happens to go near it for any reason, is also considered a threat. And the mockingbird will attack every he sees it.[iii]

And their song isn’t original either, they like to copy other birds. Usually other birds. Sometimes its cats, sometimes alarm clocks, sometimes pianos, sometimes even car alarms. Basically it’s whatever sound the northern mockingbird comes across,[iv] because why the fuck not. And they repeat those sounds a few times as well.[v] Not only is territorial aggression a reason for singing, but also quite possibly a form of sexual selection. Those with the best repertoires are more likely to mate[vi], and they keep learning new songs throughout their life.

A good field mark for northern mockingbirds is their white wing spots. They will often flash those wing spots, usually on the ground. It is widely thought they do this to flush insects out in the open, so they could eat them (berries are also a very large part of their[vii] diet as well); and also as an act of territorial aggression.[viii] Notice that that territorial aggression thing is becoming a bit of a theme with this bird.

Northern Mockingbirds have been expanding their range northward for over a century. At first, they were very rare over most of New England, or at least the parts of the region they were found. Now they are found throughout most of the region, and are quite common through much of that range.[ix] Not only that, they do not migrate, they are here year round, however, they usually lay low in the winter.[x]

Sexes are similar in this species. They are a sleek, gray handsome bird with a long tail.[xi] They are fond of grassy areas, and do well in populated areas.[xii] They are often found high in a perch singing – they aren’t too fussy as to what type of perch, a tree, house, telephone pole, whatever, so long as it is high up and out in the open – because, you guessed it: territorial aggression![xiii] And unlike many other songbirds, both sexes sing.[xiv] They are also commonly found on the ground too, though, they are usually looking for food when they are there.[xv]

mockingbird
artist’s rendition of a northern mockingbid. Note the white wing spots

So to summarize: Northern Mockingbirds are dicks, like to sing, are quite good looking and have been moving north. Until next time, go out, enjoy nature, even its douchier aspects, like the northern mockingbird.

 

 

~ Emily Curewitz 14 August 2017

[i] Author unknown “How and Why Birds Sing” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2017 https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/birdsong/

[ii] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/sounds

[iii] Sample, Ian “Mockingbirds Bear a grudge Against Particular People” The Guardian 18MAY2009

[iv] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_mockingbird  05AUG2017 https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/may/18/mockingbirds-human-recognition

[v] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/sounds

[vi] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_mockingbird  05AUG2017

[vii] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 470. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[viii] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 470. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[ix] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_mockingbird  05AUG2017

[x] Author Unknown “northern Mockingbirds” Mass Audubon 2017 http://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/birds/northern-mockingbirds

[xi] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/id

[xii] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/id

[xiii] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/id

[xiv] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/sounds

[xv] Author Unknown “Northern Mockingbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/id

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