Nature’s DJs

By Robert J. Korpella

First posted on 08-03-2010

Mockingbirds can mimic other birds’ songs to near perfect precision. Males tend to sing louder and more often than females, keeping between 50 and 200 songs on their playlists. These repertoires grow as the birds age and continue to collect new songs.

Singing isn’t the only sound mockingbirds imitate. Some have become very good at barking like dogs, croaking like frogs and a few have even learned to mimic cell phone rings or car alarms.

Singing abilities made mockingbirds attractive to pet owners in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their zeal for owning such ingenious crooners nearly wiped out the species, but an eventual decline in capturing them led to a rebound in the population of this the resilient bird.

Males crank out their playlists in spring and summer both to attract mates and to lay claim to their territories. They will often rock around the clock, belting out tunes on moonlit nights and well before dawn. Usually, unpaired males are the late-night culprits, pining for the attention of a female.

When fall arrives, mockingbirds ditch their summer compilations and crank up an entirely different sound set. In fact, only about one percent of the bird’s fall songs are repeats of the summer repertoire.

In warm months, mockingbirds consume a diet that includes beetles, earthworms, moths, butterflies, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. Sometimes they will even prey on small lizards. As insect populations decline in colder months, these birds will change their diet to one consisting mostly of fruit to sustain them through the fall and winter. Berries from ornamental bushes and even the sap from pruned trees meet with approval from mockingbirds.

Found in areas with open ground and with thickets or shrubby brush nearby, mockingbirds will make themselves easily seen by sitting on top of fences, poles, trees and utility lines. They don’t like to forage bare spots, preferring to hunt grassy areas instead. They hop, run or walk on the ground and nab insects just above grass level or by striking them while still on the ground.

Wherever there is a combination of brush and open areas, mockingbirds are likely to settle in and spin out the tunes.

Photo by Sydnee R. Crain