I rose early this morning and drove to a nearby natural area in hopes of getting some footage of a Northern Mockingbird. Luck was with me. Shortly after arriving, I found a singing male. He would sing for several minutes from a limb and then fly to a different perch. It took him about ten minutes to cover his territory, during which he would sing from maybe six or seven different locations, before returning and repeating the process again.
Most of the time, the male was perched too high for me to get good video (unless you like looking straight up at the belly of the bird). But on one occasion, he landed on a limb perhaps fifteen feet up, and I captured the sequence featured above. Yes, you’re looking up at the bird, but it’s quite an acceptable point of view. It’s my best singing mockingbird video to date… so I’m shouting hallelujah as I write this post!
Male mockingbirds sing a lot when they are looking for mates, even sounding off through the night, especially when the moon is bright. Once mated, however, singing drops off considerably. Apparently, this singing male has yet to find a mate, which is good in terms of my work. Not far away there is a pair of mockingbirds that spend time eating berries in a patch of junipers. A friend photographed them this morning and told me later that she didn’t hear any singing at all. So that proves the point, right? Why make a bunch of noise when you’re drowning in marital bliss?
Hope you like my video. The mockingbird is a common and well-known species. So it’s all the more important that I get stellar footage that will please even the most discerning eye. Perhaps I can do better, but this morning’s effort was well-rewarded, at least in my scheme of things.
What birds do I hear being imitated? Below is a list, in the order of appearance. Do you hear them? Do you hear any others? Have I made any mistakes?
The neatest imitation in the video, I think, is where he gives three “far away” Red-bellied Woodpecker querrr calls at 1:23. It sounds to me as if it’s a distant woodpecker, at least a few hundred feet away. But I’m watching the mocker and can see clearly that it’s him making the sound. Why would he do that … make it sound distant, when most assuredly he could produce a “loud and close” version? Is he just practicing ventriloquy, or is he intentionally playing with my mind, or both?
Wonderful piece; Thank you for creating, sir! Love your commentary, as well. I love to try and whistle to a Mockingbird, hear him sing back same to me!
Very nice! We used to have a Northern Mockingbird who would perch on the “Resident Parking Only” sign across from my apartment and sing his heart out all night long, as well as during the day. I really missed him when after a few years he failed to return.
I have mockingbirds in my yard all summer and love to hear them.
Boy you are good if you can listen to a Mockingbird and discern which birds he is imitating!!!!! I’m impressed and so wish I too could do this. I know a few bird sounds but nit many. Good work Lang!!! I really enjoy your videos. Keep them coming.
Nancy from Maryville, TN.
Amazing. I have never heard a mocking bird before. Do they usually sing so many different songs? I think he’s messing with everybody bird and human. I wonder how the species recognizes each other?
Wishing I had a mockingbird in my lilac outside my window here in Wisconsin. 🙂
Valerie: Yes, they generally do a lot of imitations, often comprising nearly half their song phrases.
I think it is interesting that the mockingbird seems to sing a selection of each of the birds it imitates before moving on to the next. Keeps the repertoire focused on one bird at a time.
We had a mockingbird sitting on the telephone lines, doing a dead-on impression of the beeping sounds that trucks make when they back up. Perfect timing, everything.
Kathi: but was he backing up on the wire?
FunnyJoin the discussion
That’s so funny!
I winter in Florida and we have mockingbirds all over Venice. Every morning I walk, and always, I’m accompanied by mockingbirds. Most people that live here all year round find these birds a pain in the, well, backside. But I find their remarkable singing aptitude marvelous, and their lively antics wonderful to watch. Two young mockingbirds tumbling act in midair went on for a few seconds. I wish I had my camera to record their play. Your recording is right on Lang. I never tire of birdsongs here. I love the doves here too, cooing in the morning, I lay… Read more »
Makes me almost want to be in Florida. Lovely.
Charley and I think we hear a Common Yellowthroat call at 0:37 and a little snippet of robin at 0:27.
Julia: I don’t hear the Robin, but you might very well be correct about the Common Yellowthroat call. I think I’ll add that one to the list!
It’s definitely not a good rendition of a robin; it just sounded like a single syllable of a robin’s song repeated several times in an un-robinlike way. I couldn’t think of what else it was supposed to be.
The phoebe, on the other hand, is so convincing that I think it would have fooled me if I weren’t watching the mockingbird do it.
The phoebe at the end I mean (though on listening again it isn’t quite as convincing as I remembered). I agree with you original assessment that the first “phoebe” is supposed to be a willow flycatcher.
PS: Your comments section doesn’t remember who I am, or give the option for me to be notified of replies. I’m thinking that’s a setting you can change at your end, since it isn’t that way when I comment on other blogs.
Charley: I just enabled a wordpress plugin that will allow for notification of replies. I’m currently testing it to make sure it work. I don’t know, however, why it’s not recognizing you on return visits. I’ll investigate that, but it may have to do with the fact that I don’t require commenters to be registered to my blog in order to subscribe. In other words, anyone can post a comment, as long as they leave their email and name without being “signed up”.
Perhaps when he was a youngster during his pattern-setting period, he heard a very distant woodpecker and that is why it is so soft? I’d also read that the more varied, and therefore impressive, the repertoire, the greater breeding success. I’m impressed with him! Great capture, Lang.
Wonderful recording, Lang! I think the phoebe is clear – even the soft tone of it. I caught the titmouse. There’s a scold note in there between 38 and 41 that I don’t know who it belongs to. So amazing that as well as the whistles he can do the red-bellied woodpecker. I can’t!
Ruth: You can’t imitate a Red-bellied Woodpecker? Aw, c’mon, give it a try … I’ll bet you can!
wonderful video. i love mockingbirds. they have such amazing skill and such jaunty attitude. the wildest sound i ever heard one make was when i was on the eastern shore of maryland at blackwater refuge. a mockingbird there had gotten an osprey sound down to perfection. made me laugh. i’ve always loved this quote from tom robbins in “skinny legs and all” about the mockingbird. he sums it up brilliantly: “Mockingbirds are the true artists of the bird kingdom. Which is to say, although they’re born with a song of their own, an innate riff that happens to be one… Read more »
Nice quote Billie, although evolutionary biologists would argue that there is a purpose behind the imitations … that imitating allows a male to easily increase his song repertoire, and that females are attracted to this diversity. I’m not so sure, because if song diversity leads to greater breeding success, then way more species would be imitating. The mere existence of a large number of songbird species that have simple and rather unvarying song patterns takes the air out of the argument that a high song pattern diversity is associated with increased fitness (breeding success) of the male.
The video is such a treasure; I have seen them fly from spot to spot, but never watched them sing close enough to see their throats fluttering.
There is a chick-a-dee-like call at 0:18, which I’m thinking is the bluebird. While the rhythm is similar to a chickadee alarm call [chick-a-dee-dee-dee], it sounds sweeter. Perhaps it’s just a mockingbird mashup of bluebird and chickadee sounds?
It’s definitely bluebird (not chickadee), even though cadence is similar to the chicka-dee-dee call.
Amazing! I thought I heard a kingfisher
Nancy: I too hear what sounds like a Kingfisher rattle, so maybe I will add that to the list.
I was going to mention the chickadee, also. It was so nice to get to really listen to the mocker, so often they are background noise. Have read the brown thrashers also mimic and older birds can have up to 2,000 songs.
at what time do you hear a chickadee? song or calls?
nice pic … is that you? are you thinking about uploading it to gravatar.com?
Yes indeed, the Brown Thrasher wins the prize for song phrase diversity, with thousands of motifs to draw from. I plan to post a video of a singing male shortly after the thrashers return her here, hopefully by the third week of April.
Man, that guy is HOT!
I’m giving a presentation to a group of blind kids this weekend on nature sounds, and this is a good e.g. You can hear the elaborateness of his songs, plus the text describing their function closes the loop.
I want the kids to understand that bird songs have a purpose…
Kathi: Remember that the function of song is different from what a bird feels when he sings. A bird doesn’t think “I’ll sing to defend my territory and attract a mate.” He sings because he is prompted to sing from within (due to motivational factors controlled by hormones,etc.) and because it feels good to sing. Yes, recent studies show that opioid hormones are actually secreted during singing. The idea that a bird sings because he likes to sing actually has scientific validity.
That should really confuse the ladies!
Thank you Lang! This is such a treat! I vote Eastern Phoebe. To me, his song sounds mnemonically like “Right here! Wanna see it? Right here! Right here!” In that way it seemed to stand out when I heard that imitated by the mockingbird.
What a wonderful imitator!
What an impressive repertoire! Thanks for sharing!
I think it’s all phoebe…missed the gull entirely! Nothing you didn’t hear to add to the list, unless different Carolina Wren song types count. But hey, on Cuba there are no Carolina Wrens but mockingbirds there still mimmick them!
Gene: I tend to agree. I’m going to change it back to Eastern Phoebe with a note about maybe being Willow Flycatcher. The argument for Willow is that one typically breeds just a few hundred feet away from where the mockingbird is setting up its territory.
I must admit, the gull call baffles me. Where would he have heard that?
The location where I recorded is right along the shore of Lake Cayuga, a bit north of Ithaca. There are tons of Ring-billed Gulls in the vicinity.
I once heard the story of two birders lying in bed in Manhattan while a mockingbird went through his repertoire. They recognized every song he mimicked except one. Finally it came to them: car alarm.
Thank you so much for these wonderful little slices of the natural world.
Dissecting Northern mockingbird calls is fun and thanks so much for this challenge. Things get a little complex at one point as there are some interesting things going on at 1:22, when you will hear an presumably real Northern flicker calling in the distant background. At 1:26 the mocker imitates the sputter call of a downy or hairy woodpecker, and then at 1:27 the mockingbird duplicates the call of the Northern flicker heard in the distance five seconds earlier.
At 1:57 — definitely an Eastern phoebe.
Norm: you’re right about the complexity and occurrences you describe, but I believe those sounds are imitations of the Red-bellied Woodpecker, not Northern Flicker. The sputter, I am not sure of. I think it sounds more like the rattle of a Kingfisher. But I left that out because of my uncertainty.
Made me smile. They are amazing.
They are amazing! I love being fooled by their sounds. When I arrived this morning, the first thing I heard was a bluebird singing. Not! It was the mockingbird imitating the bluebird. Took me a few seconds to figure that out. It was a perfect imitation.
This bird is my favorite. He is so clever, and not showy…skilled and entertaining. Thanks for providing us with this exciting footage and sound.
You’re welcome Eileen!
I was thinking Willow Flycatcher instead of Phoebe? (They nest there BTW)
Hmmm … I’ll have to listen again. Fitz-bew rather than Fee-bee? … Do you think both times??
I think you’re right about the Willow Flycatcher, though not absolutely for sure. So I’ve modified my list accordingly!
Thank you for the video. Hearing a Mockingbird always makes my happy.
In addition to what you identified, I hear a Tufted Titmouse around :55.
Yup on the titmouse. Will add in a moment!
0:54 titmouse “peter peter peter”
Kevin: Yes, you’re right, I missed the titmouse and I’ll add it shortly.
Amazing lang the ornitomusic is with you
I love a bird with a playlist! We have an urban mockingbird in our backyard that includes some man-made noise (I think) but I love mixtape he plays for my pleasure from the power pole in the alley:)
Ohhh, what a treat! Thank you so much. My husband and I enjoyed listening to this together on this sunny spring morning here in Oregon. I’ve always wondered how a Mockingbird sounds….
A friend sent your email to me – so now I get to hear your offerings. They’re beautiful, and I fall in love with the sweet birds every time. What a lovely gift you give to the world in this way. Now my heart is singing with happiness too. Thank you again from both of us.
Thank you Eve! I’m glad you’re enjoying my mockingbird video.
I would have put a chickadee in there as well, toward the beginning. I just LOVED this!
Hey Karen … when are you going to put up an avatar? Chickadee? I don’t hear that one, so let’s see if anybody else hears it.