Listen to the Mockingbird
Carolyn Gritzmaker Indian Trail Master Naturalist
An old song began “Listen to the mockingbird, listen to the mockingbird.” We’ve all heard the Mockingbird sing, but have you ever really listened to one’s song? The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) has a delightful and varied song of its own, but interspersed within the song are usually bits and pieces of other birds’ songs and calls. They seem to prefer to mock the loud songs and strident calls, rather than those which are soft and sweet.
Some Mockingbirds do not mock at all, and others will only mock a few birds, but some are really good songsters and have quite a variety of imitations. These individuals will continually change the bird songs they mock. Over the course of the spring and summer, the mocker will pick up new songs, sometimes only mocking a certain species for a few days, and then dropping it completely. Sometimes, you can tell when the summer birds, such as the Purple Martin (Progne subis) and Kingbird(Tyrannus tyrannus), have arrived in the area, because the Mockingbird will begin to imitate their songs.
One of the Mockingbirds in our neighborhood has a pretty good repertoire. His favorite seems to be the Blue Jay(Cyanocitta cristata) since he mocks it so often, but recently he has also mocked the Purple Martin’s chortle, Robin’s scold, Chimney Swift’s twitter, a toad’s croak, Red-tailed Hawk, Cardinal, Hummingbird’s flight song, Tufted Titmouse’s peter song, Greater Yellowlegs and Carolina Wren. Listen to the Mockingbirds in your area, and see how many different calls you can recognize within their song.
In the spring and summer only the male Mockingbird will sing. You will often see him leap into the air in the midst of his song, as if overcome with happiness. The female, who does sing during the fall and winter months, will be silent in the spring and summer, as she prepares her nest and incubates her eggs. During this time, the male can often be heard singing well into the night, filling those dark hours with his joyous song. I’ve heard some people comment that his “racket” keeps them awake at night, but to me, there is nothing sweeter than hearing our own “nightingale” the Mockingbird, singing during the night.