I have been singing the beautiful song of the Texas state bird, the Northern Mockingbird lately. I looked up information on mockingbirds and here’s what I learned.
The male mockingbird is the one who sings during mating season in the spring. His tireless outpouring of trills, warbles, squawks and scolds recalls the verve of a Rossini overture. I can not say I know what a Rossini overture sounds like, but I’m sure it’s classy like the song of the mockingbird.
Both the male and female singers in the fall
They are defending their territories, which center on a source of food for the winter. They also sing at night in the spring and fall often when there is a full moon. Only the male sings during mating season, first to announce his territory and then to attract a female.
The mockingbird can imitate dozens of other birds, as well as animals, insects, machinery and even musical instruments. There was one well-known mockingbird in California that imitated the fire sirens from a nearby station. Another one was known to imitate the call of an American toad.
Unmated males do more singing
Much of the singing has to do with courtship, but unmated males sing more than mated males and they more frequently fly up into the air as they sing. It is said that only unmated males sing at night.
I wonder about that. Maybe the unmated males sing at night because they do not have anything else to do – wash dishes, change diapers, feed hungry babies or whatever. Maybe they sing because they do not have to do the hard work or they sing at night after hanging out with the other singles as they go their way home.
The male may sing uninterrupted for over an hour. He can even fly and sing. He may produce 30 or more different sounds during a 10-minute span, including virtually any sound heard in nature and even human-produced sounds like sirens and whistles. He often repeats a sound three or more times before going on to the next.
Not really a mimic after all
Strictly speaking, Northern Mockingbirds do not mimic sounds, in spite of their scientific name-L. Mimus, mimic; Gr. Polyglottos, many-tongued. In the context of biology, mimicry implications deception as well as a benefit to the mimic that results from deception. Because mockingbirds do not seem to be deceiving other animals when they sing, it is preferable to say that the appropriate sounds into their songs.
On a plant note: mockingbirds go for chili pequins. They also like bread, suet, and raisins.