Archive for Mimid

Gray Catbird 5/6/18

Once considered a thrush for its drooped wings, and known for its cat-like call, the Gray Catbird is one of New England’s 3 Mimid species (35 worldwide) which have a well developed syrinx to mimic the songs of other birds. Catbirds sing a medley of “strophes,” or phrases of other bird songs, in a long string but without repeating any. The Brown Thrasher repeats each strophe twice before moving on to the next, and the Northern Mockingbird, the most prodigious mimic of the 3, repeats strophes 4 to 6 times, making it possible to tell who is singing even when you can’t see, as they often sing from deep within a dense thicket. Mostly found east of the Rockies, a few Gray Catbirds overwinter in New England, but the majority migrate from the south in early spring.


Gray Catbird 1/30/18

Gray Catbirds are another species you have to be careful about when checking your field guide’s range map. It will tell you that there are none around in the winter months, but every winter there are always a number of them who didn’t get the memo.


Northern Mockingbird 12/8/17

Northern Mockingbirds have prodigious repertoire of bird songs they mimic, sometimes singing all night during full moons, and singing in all but the coldest winter months. Females sing as well, just not so loudly. Often it’s a long string of a dozen or more bird songs, sounding like your back yard is full of variety which can disappoint you when you discover it’s all one bird. They even pick up and add other sounds like car alarms and lawn mowers. Many folks consider their loud and aggressive behavior annoying. They are thrush-sized and light feathered below with silky greys above and white wing patches they’re known to flash when courting. In winter the monogamous pairs don’t migrate but remain in their territories, aggressively defending them from other birds like Waxwings or Robins looking to forage in the shrubs and fruit trees they’ve claimed. Mockingbirds like suburban park-like and agricultural habitats with at least some open area. They’re found from coast to coast in the US and as far south as the Yucatan.


Northern Mockingbird 1/11/17


Not long ago it would have been quite unusual to find the Northern Mockingbirds overwintering in Southern Maine. They prefer open scrub and park-like areas with short grasses and sparse shrubbery and no doubt the relentless expansion of urban and suburban environments has significantly contributed to their success. They are aggressive birds, often in early winter you’ll find one or a pair jealously guarding some fruiting shrub, vigorously fending off marauding starlings or waxwings. Their prodigious repertoire of imitated sounds not only includes the songs and calls of many other birds, but they will also mimic dogs, frogs, insects, even car alarms! Both sexes sing, sometimes endlessly, sometimes in winter, and even sometimes at night, though females sing more softly and less frequently. Their repertoires continue to expand as they age.


Northern Mockingbird 12/27/14




Northern Mockingbird female 11/3/14


Try squinching your face up like that and standing on one leg! Male and female Northern Mockingbirds look exactly alike but in the fall females sing a repertoire like the males only a lot more softly, and that’s exactly what this one was doing. She was frequently distracted by a small group of House Sparrows trying to raid from a bush full of round yellow-green berries I didn’t recognize, and after every time she chased them off she’d return to this perch and sing softly. Males are much louder, and sing a different repertoire in the fall and into winter than they do in spring and summer. And when you hear a mockingbird singing through the night, especially during a full moon, chances are that’s a young unmated male.


Northern Mockingbird juvenile 8/13/14


In August the skies are filling with birds that have fledged and started to forage and explore on their own. Mockingbird sexes are alike so you can’t tell the males from females, but you can tell the juves from adults. Here’s a mockingbird with a spotted breast, a dark eye, and an indistinct eye-line, while adults have a clean breast, yellow eyes and a sharply defined black eye-line.


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