Is that a dog barking? Honey, you need to fix the squeaky hinges! Darn those crickets chirping all night long. No, it isn’t a dog, a hinge nor a cricket, but our Northern Mockingbird doing his best imitations. This bird can sing over 400 different songs and can imitate all of the above as well as other birdsong (up to 30 in rapid succession), musical instruments and chain saws! They can so accurately mimic a sound that a computer analysis of the sonograms cannot tell the difference between the real thing and the mockingbird.
The scientific name for the Northern Mockingbird is “Mimus polyglottos” which in Greek means “mimic of many tongues” for their varied repertoire.
We don’t know why this king of song has developed this vocal virtuosity, but it has been suggested that they just have an overwhelming urge to sing. And they will sing from morning to evening, and even through moonlit summer nights.
The mockingbird is medium-sized and slender songbird. They have small heads, a long thin bill and long legs. Their short rounded wings make their tail look very long. Their coloring is a gray-brown on the back and lighter underneath. A white wing patch decorates each wing and can sometimes be seen when perched and always in flight along with white outer tail feathers.
Mockingbirds are very territorial. They make themselves known by perching conspicuously on fences and telephone wires, or running and hopping along the ground. A mockingbird will attack much larger crows and grackles and during breeding season will attack your cat if it is anywhere near the nest.
Mockingbirds have only moved into California during the twentieth century and can be found in cities, suburbs, backyards, forests edges, parks and open land at low elevations (under 3500 feet).
They eat berries and fruit throughout fall and winter, and switch to insects in summer. Insect prey includes beetles, earthworms, moths, ants, bees, wasps, grasshoppers and the occasional lizard. They flush out insects by raising their wings and tails.
The male chooses the nest site and builds several nests of dead twigs shaped into a cup. The female then chooses the one she likes the best and lines it with grasses, leaves and trash. She keeps the male busy by laying eggs in a second nest while he is feeding the young of the first nest. She lays 2 to 6 eggs of pale blue or greenish white splotched with red or brown.
To encourage mockingbirds to come to your yard, plant fruiting trees or bushes (mulberries, hawthorns and blackberries). Suet cages and rehydrated raisins are also enjoyed by mockingbirds.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.