Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let Us Now Praise Common Birds

The Northern Mockingbird is one of the few birds that almost all Texans know and can identify. This is hardly surprising, given how common the species is here. It probably also helps that the N. Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas - as it is of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.

From that list of states, it might seem that the N. Mockingbird is essentially a bird of the southern USA. Not at all. The species can be found all over the lower 48 states, as well as in Mexico and even southern Canada. The bird's presence over such a wide area is explained by its extraordinary ability to survive and indeed thrive in all kinds of habitat, from urban to agricultural, from desert to woodland, and from mountains to marshland.

Personally, I love N. Mockingbirds. For one thing, they're intensely curious: For example, whenever I make a psshing noise when birding the CyFair campus, I can be sure that at least one N. Mockingbird will hurry right over to check out what's happening.

Another trait that I admire is their fearlessness. I've often seen one chasing away a cat or a dog that has intruded on their territory. Of course, it's not just cats or dogs that they will take on; they are equally willing to swoop down and chase away people who stray too near their nests. And they will relentlessly harass any Red-tailed Hawk that they feel is trespassing. If the hawk is flying, they will buzz around it and sometimes bump it. If the hawk is perched, they will even bop it on the head over and over again until either they get exhausted or the hawk moves on.
More than anything, though, I like N. Mockingbirds because of their calls and their courtship behavior. 

As I'm sure you have noticed, they sing a lot. (The only time when they generally stop singing is during late summer, when they are molting.) And their songs often include cover versions of the songs and calls of other bird species. In many cases, their songs may also include impressively accurate renderings of other noises, such as car alarms or ambulance sirens. Males looking for a mate are particularly vocal and may sing all day and all night for weeks until they attract a female. 

In addition, males put on quite a courtship display: They perch on a chimney or pole or tree or mailbox, leap several feet into the air, and then flutter slowly back down to their perch.  

In case you're wondering why the bird is called the Northern Mockingbird, this is because there is another species - the Tropical Mockingbird - in Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

1 comment:

Rolf Hohmann said...

I was in Texas for vacation and saw this species often. I like them also and took many pictures of the bird