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Mockingbirds combine big personality, amazing talent

Northern mockingbirds skillfully mimic other birds’ songs but their own song is among the best.
Northern mockingbirds skillfully mimic other birds’ songs but their own song is among the best.

I like mockingbirds. They are the most outgoing of birds, highly visible with an in-your-face attitude.

I know; they can be backyard bullies, especially when they stake out territories in the winter and deny other birds access to feeders. Let a predator such as a cat or snake come on the scene, however, and they fly right in, confront the issue, and actually try to do something about it. While the other birds are giving distress calls and flitting about, the mockers are dive-bombing and occasionally making contact with the threat. Even humans might feel their wrath if we get too close during the nesting season.

Northern mockingbirds select several prominent perches from which to sing and survey their little kingdoms. Even as they fly, the mockers stand out. Large white wing patches say ‘look out, here I come” to anyone or anything in the immediate area.

Northern mockingbirds are famous, of course, for their ability to mimic other birds’ songs. They are the Rich Little of our avian wildlife. Add the amazingly diverse musical repertoire mockingbirds possess to their already large personality and you have the complete songbird, in my opinion. And Northern mockingbirds are accomplished singers in their own right. They have their own song, which qualifies as among the best even before the myriad other borrowed calls and songs are worked into their performances.

On a recent day I sat on my porch just to listen to my local mocker and identify the species it was mimicking. It started out with the familiar breep, breep, breep of a great-crested flycatcher, followed by the pleasant interactive chattering of barn swallows. A few rough phoebe’s borrowed from the local Eastern phoebe pair followed. In the next 15 minutes that bird wove the rattle of a belted kingfisher, the calls of purple martins, the complex full song of a song sparrow, caws of American crows, songs of American robins and Eastern bluebirds, muted screams from a red-shouldered hawk, the peter peter peter from a tufted titmouse, and meows from a gray catbird into a full blown concert.

They are so proud of themselves they even sing at night when there is little or no audio competition from other birds. They don’t need an opening act, and no prodding needed for an encore. The encores will go on and on and on and on …

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.