Mockingbird: Melodious but Mean

They are cute when fluffed up

They are cute when fluffed up

The war of spring has started.  It’s the Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) vs. the cardinals, bluebirds and ME!  While no other bird can match their beautiful song repertoire, the ugly squawk and dive at my precious bluebirds is really rubbing me the wrong way.  Oh, and the other day when they took a shot at my head.  The bullies of the bird world.

Classic pose...very sleak looking

Classic pose…very sleek looking

The mockingbird has an “amazing ability to mimic other bird songs and sounds, its scientific name polyglottos – “many tongued” – is very apt.”  You might even think there are several species of birds visiting only to discover just one bird with a language ability that would make him tops at the Birdy United Nations. They sing all day and sometimes at night.  As they age their vocabulary can increase.  During the eighteen-hundreds their numbers were in jeopardy as they were a commodity bought and sold. People caged them as house pets to enjoy their melody.

They strive for greatness

They strive for greatness

According to whatbird.com:

A group of mockingbirds has many collective nouns, including an “echo”, “exactness”, “plagiary”, and a “ridicule” of mockingbirds.

And, they have been known to “ridicule” ME!

They nest in oaks as well as other shrubby plants

They nest in oaks as well as other shrubby plants

Mockingbirds aggressively defend “their” territory.  Well, I’ve got news for them, this is MY territory and I’ll not have them starting nests where they will chase away the bluebirds.  Bluebirds nest only in boxes or cavities whereas mockingbirds nest just about anywhere shrubby that will hold their assortment of twigs, dryer lint and cigarette butts.

They use an odd assortment of nesting materials

They use an odd assortment of nesting materials

The males start the nest building in several areas, then the females choose which nest they like and put on the finishing touches. Baccharis halimifolia, Wax Myrtle, oak and holly are some of the shrubbery they have chosen to build at my place.  And build they do.  I’ve had numerous successful broods of Mockingbirds and also some tragedies…4 eggs one day…none the next.

Both dad and mom help build the nest in shrubs

Both dad and mom help build the nest in shrubs such as this groundsel

They like an open lawn (I think for a clear shot at me), shrubs to hide in and tall trees to perch for a “bird’s eye view”.

Mom sticks with the nest even when hungry

Mom sticks with the nest even when hungry

As with most birds, the mockingbird’s primary diet during nesting season and summer consists of insects. They aren’t fussy, eating beetles, earthworms, moths, butterflies, ants, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers.  Apparently they also will eat small lizards to round out their menu.  They are big fruit eaters come fall and winter.

They lay blue speckled eggs, usually 4

They lay blue speckled eggs, usually 4

Some of their favorite eats in my yard consist of native plants: dahoon berries, beautyberry, winged sumac drupes, grapes, blackberries and gallberries.  Other choices would include mulberries and hawthorns.

Four babies all snug and hungry

Four babies all snug and hungry

So, while not my favorite bird, I listen to the songs of the Mockingbirds and think that maybe they aren’t so bad.  They certainly can bring a sound of joy to nature like no other creature.

Adorable and wobbly when newly fledged

Adorable and wobbly when newly fledged

© 2013, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Lisa G says

    Enjoyed your article on mockers. They are thick in my yard but I have bluebirds too, so they have worked it out. Your photo of the one sitting behind the hawk reminded me of my most favorite bird picture in the world. It was in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, years ago. It is a mockingbird, sitting on the shoulder area of a mature red tailed hawk. They are just sitting there. Caption reads, “I am the state bird of Texas and I will sit any where I want.”
    That’s a mocker for ya!

    • says

      Thanks Lisa!

      I’ve seen my mockers attack the hawks who just look the other way, but to have one land on the shoulder of a hawk? WOW, that’s something! Thanks for sharing this tidbit. Brought a smile to my face. p.s. also the state bird of Florida (and I think some other states). They really do have the upper hand. :)
      Loret recently posted..Freshwater seafood?

  2. Bill says

    You nailed it. They can irritate the ‘heck’ out of me and at the same time amuse me. And I love to hear them sing, though that sometimes amuses me, too. It seems they know the first phrase or two (only) of a great many songs, and sing them in rapid succession. And your pics are awesome, thanks.

    • says

      Thanks Bill! I’m glad that I’m not the only one with a love/hate relationship with this birdy. Very funny….”they only know the first phrase …of the song”. That truly sums it up. Thanks for stopping by!
      Loret recently posted..Freshwater seafood?

  3. says

    I used to hate grackles but now I appreciate them and even want to paint them in watercolor! I love Mockingbirds. I would be happy to attract one to my garden. They can bully the house sparrows all they want. Then maybe I would have a chance of seeing a bluebird. Interestingly I heard about birds using cigarette butts in their nests … apparently nicotine is a natural disease fighter and the filters repel moisture/mildew! Birds are smart.
    Kathy Sturr of The Violet Fern recently posted..January Observations: 0 to 60 in 2 Days Flat

    • says

      re: Kathy Sturr…

      Sadly, cigarette butts (nicotine) are a frequent cause of bird death and they also pose a hazard to pets and sea creatures because they are toxic to animals. The number one cause of bird loss, however, are ordinary house cats (a study I read states millions of birds die in the U.S. alone, per year).

      For the sake of bird life, stray cats should be reported to animal control, whereas pet cats should be kept indoors or in a rabbit hutch, especially at night. What protects birds also protects house cats — as they tend to be most active during the same hours coyotes, bobcats and raccoons are active. Most cats prowl at dusk and nightfall when the majority of songbirds see too poorly to escape. Late afternoon is the time to bring one’s cat indoors, if they’re generally out.

      • says

        I’ll have to run some of those “no smoking” tv ads on the webcam so the birds stop bringing their nasty butt habit to my smokefree yard Luckily no stray cat problem in my area. The bobcats keep them in check, I suppose ;)

  4. Cindy says

    Ha, ha..a ridicule of Mockingbirds.. Until reading your blog I had no idea they were such cranky birds..they never come to my yard, so I have not had a chance to observe this behavior..The picture with the hawk is priceless..But, Loret as a wildlife gardener shouldn’t you be letting the Mockers and Bluebirds work it out for themselves ;-)

  5. says

    Funny, we just watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” and Sheldon was coming unglued because of a Mockingbird outside his office window was singing. (I lived in Calgary, AB for 2 years and still mentally confuse these guys with Magpies.)
    Thank you for all the green photos and a life filled article: all this talk of spring and your birds returning reminds me that it’s coming this way too. Hooray!

  6. 5char says

    I have not heard any for a long time, not even the one(s) that I have been seeing recently.

    In Feb 2011, a singer remained quiet when it noticed me near.
    I whistled a long sequence of two alternating notes (simplicity intentional).
    Immediate response, in each of three exchanges, was its complex song.
    Perhaps telling me, “I don’t do boring”.

  7. says

    In Aztec mythology, the hummingbird was depicted as the god of war. Hummingbirds tirelessly chase off intruders from their territory — typically, in my observation, fellow hummers — just as consistently as mockingbirds in my experience. If we want to talk about “mean birds”, the hummingbird, too, belongs in that category. The main difference, of course, is that when food sources overlap less, conflict and competition overlaps less too.

    As for the matter of territory, it’s not necessarily the case that one is likely to land on a mockingbird’s bad side. A mated pair of mockingbirds fledged not one but each brood of young for three weeks per set, during which time they attacked no pets or people (only strays, squirrels, crows and hawks). Studies have shown that mockingbirds are difficult to fool — in that they can recognize people and tell individuals apart. If you attempt to scare off or harass a resident mockingbird, the problem you may inadvertently invite is that they may remember you as a threat from year-to-year. If you don’t want a “war”, I wouldn’t advise taking a broom, water gun or worse to their homes.

    It is illegal to “claim” your territory from wild birds, per the Wild and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, if in so doing that leads to the harm, possession, death or relocation of a wild bird and its nest, mockingbird or otherwise. I would suggest that if you want other songbirds to feed, establish another feeding station on another part of your property. Because mockingbirds defend a 1-2 acre territory in pairs during nesting season and singularly thereafter, the reality is that your mockingbird can’t guard or scare off all birds from every food source simultaneously. The alternative? Stop feeding birds entirely. (Regardless, there is an argument to be made for not setting up bird feeding stations, as it invites cats and hawks to easy prey.)

    In my experience, mockingbirds can be quite intelligent and entertaining without necessarily being “mean”. I observed four mated pairs in my neighborhood tract this spring/summer and in each case there were flocks of mourning doves and finches grouped near perched mockers. I can only surmise that when food sources are plentiful, they are capable of being peaceable with just about any species. More importantly, other songbirds benefit from the mockingbirds willingness to defend a territory against mutual threats, especially during nesting season.

    As frustrated as you may be, mockingbirds are not entirely indiscriminate. Not only did the mockingbird pair in my area tolerate my cat, dog, spouse, in-laws and myself, it built its final nest of the season in a backyard tree and allowed members of my household to pass right beneath it.

    I suspect that mockingbirds that are overly aggressive have been victims of either an intentional or unintentional attempt to scare them off (for instance, trimming trees in which they have nests). Once a mockingbird pair is acclimated to one’s presence — ideally early in the year before they build their first nest — they will rarely target those who give them no cause to. Keep in mind, however, that mockingbirds have less than a 50 percent rate of success raising any young to adulthood — it’s highly unlikely your bluebirds will ever be forced to compete with an entire flock! But for nesting season, mockingbirds lead largely solitary lives. Surely finding a peaceable way to deal with a territorial mockingbird is within the realm of possibility!

    • says

      Appreciate your comments, but you seem to have misjudged the intent of the article. the “mean” part was said “tongue in cheek”. I have a natural habitat where the birds “eat off the land”, so there are no feeding stations to stop filling, no “claiming” territory, no trimming trees and 4 YES 4 successful mockingbird nests fledged in 2013. Several others nests were victims (if you can call it that) to someone higher up the food chain. Eggs tend to disappear, be it the snakes, hawks, or whoever. We all get along just fine and dandy. Sorry if my “poetic” license led you to believe otherwise. Thanks for stopping by.

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  1. [...] 157. Mockingbird: Melodious but Mean: The war of spring has started.  It’s the Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) vs. the cardinals, bluebirds and ME!  While no other bird can match their beautiful song repertoire, the ugly squawk and dive at my precious bluebirds is really rubbing me the wrong way… ~Loret T. Setters [...]

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