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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mockingbird Mystery


The Northern Mockingbird in our neighborhood in Florida has begun to sing recently. We can tell because there suddenly seems to be less "air time" for other birds. The Mockingbird's constant singing dominates the place. Mockingbirds mimic the sounds of other birds, and even other noises (including fire engines!), repeating each sound three or more times. So in fact, when you hear bird song, you begin to wonder, is it the real thing, or a Mockingbird messing with my mind?

One litmus test to distinguish if it's a mocker is to listen carefully and discern if the notes are being repeated in groups of three or more. So if you hear 3 notes of Cardinal song, then 3 notes of Blue Jay scolding, then 3 notes of a Gray Catbird, etc. all in rapid succession, chances are it's a Mockingbird singing.

Our neighborhood mocker seems to mimic the songs of other birds that are around here. One mystery though, is that it has also been adding the notes of Gray Kingbird into its "song." Gray Kingbirds are migrants that do not arrive in Florida (where they breed) until usually sometime in March or in April. So how does the Mockingbird know to incorporate the song of a bird that is not even here yet? Does the Mockingbird remember the Gray Kingbird's song from last year? Only the mockingbird knows.

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