Originally posted 5/19/2011
I have a bird feeder situated just outside of my kitchen window. It is placed there on purpose to provide me entertainment while washing dishes and preparing meals. As I mentioned in my previous post about blue jays, part of my initial morning routine is feeding the birds along with my dog, cat, angel fish and gouramies. The birds have become quite adjusted to this routine and so as I wait for my coffee to brew, I usually stand near the kitchen window and watch them flock to the feeder. Unfortunately, my feeder attracts a few bullies now and then and this disturbs me. These Grackles swoop down and butt their way into the midst of the platform feeder, stepping on the little sparrows and finches and squeezing out the timid doves. The Grackles then proceed to kick out what seed they don’t want. Being the animal lover that I am, I allow the Grackles time to get a few bites of seed and then I tap on my window pane to shoo them away. Unfortunately, this method usually results in scaring off all the birds.
A few mornings ago, as I was waiting on my first cup of coffee, I saw a Mockingbird at my feeder. Not long after, the Grackle bullies arrived and all the little birds and doves flew off. Interestingly, the Mockingbird did not budge. As the Grackles trampled around him, he opened his beak and squawked and hissed until the bullies flew away. Hooray for him!
Growing up with pets and having Mockingbirds all around me in North Texas, I had indeed come to know them as being quite territorial. I believe for the most part, the Mockingbirds were pecking at my cats in defense of their nests, but I also believe it is just the nature of a Mockingbird to be a risk taker. But being a risk taker is only one aspect of a Mockingbird’s personality – a personality that is indeed quite unique.
Mockingbirds (technically, Northern Mockingbirds) are medium-sized, slender birds of a gray to gray-brown color with white stripes on their wings. They have relatively long beaks and long legs compared to their bodies. They can usually be found perched on highline wires, in tops of trees, on chimneytops or on a mailbox. They are one of the few types of birds that can adapt and survive in almost any type of habitat, from cities to suburbs to rural farmland. They can be found throughout the United States and Mexico at all times of the year: from the cooler climate states bordering Canada, to the tropical forests of deep Mexico, as well as in the desert areas of the southwestern United States.
Mockingbirds are considered omnivores, which means they eat both insects and vegetation (seeds, fruits and berries). Due to the abundance of insects in the summertime in most locales, Mockingbirds feed well on protein in the hot months. In the cooler months, they may be seen more regularly at the feeder. From personal experience, one sure way to attract Mockingbirds at any time of the year is to sit out a red apple or two at your feeder. Mockingbirds absolutely love apples. They also enjoy partaking of raisins, among other dried fruit. In fact, the reason I had a Mockingbird at my feeder recently, unusual in late Spring, is because the brand of seed I had purchased included bits of cherries and apricots. The Mockingbird was meticulously picking out the fruit among the seed.
Getting back to Mockingbirds being risk takers, I have a couple of personal stories to this effect. One year, a Mockingbird developed a habit of listening for my garage door to open. I would notice when I arrived home from work that the Mockingbird would quickly fly down and perch on my fence near the driveway. I thought he was becoming my “special friend” but instead I soon discovered he was hanging out to daringly sweep into my garage and devour as much dry cat food as he could before I let the garage door back down! I also found a Mockingbird perched in one of my interior hanging baskets one day when I arrived home from work. While I have always had cats, there was no evidence of disturbed feathers inside or out, so the Mockingbird must have voluntarily let himself in through the doggie door. I cannot think of another species of bird that would have the inclination to do this. And, no doubt, the Mockingbird ate a bit of my dog’s food (situated under the hanging basket) while in the house!
Last, but certainly not least, about the Mockingbird is the fascinating reason for its namesake. Mockingbirds do just that – they mock. Although Mockingbirds certainly have their own song versions, it is thought they are capable of mocking over 50 other types of birds. -And not only do they mock birds, they have been known to mock squirrels, dogs and even squeaky doors! Scientists believe the reason Mockingbirds show off their incredible range of vocals is to attract mates. The more songs and sounds a Mockingbird can make, the larger his experience and territory is thought to be. I guess prestige counts in the animal world too! In fact, if you hear the sweet solo of a bird singing in the dark of night, it is most likely a Mockingbird promoting his talents.
I encourage you the next time you see a Mockingbird to take a few moments to observe and listen to him. You may be surprised what you learn about this common, but very unique bird. (Yes, my title is an oxymoron – but it fits!)
The Mockingbird is the official state bird of 5 states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.
Until next time,