Mockingbirds are cool. We have a few at school, and one likes to play games with me. He’ll fly beside me and stop a short distance in front of me while I talk to him. When I get within four or five feet, he flies a little further. Never does he seem intimidated.
I did some research on mockingbirds and found that behavior to be typical. Mockingbirds are smart and have great memories. Like crows, they remember if someone has been aggressive toward them. I haven’t.
A few weekends ago I was working on the greenhouses and this mockingbird shadowed me. He shifted around a little but basically stayed in my vicinity even though I was using power tools. I soon noticed he didn’t have a constant call. He’d make a robin call and a cardinal call interspersed with others I didn’t recognize.
Mockingbirds get their name from mimicking the sounds of other creatures. They copy the calls of other birds to ward off predators, but I think they imitate mostly for the fun of it. That one stayed with me for a few hours while I talked to it and ran saws and drills the whole time.
I’ve read where people have been attacked by mockingbirds, but I’ve never witnessed anything like that. I’ve had swallows divebomb me before but never mockingbirds.
For those not familiar with them, mockingbirds are small to medium sized somewhat long-legged gray birds with white patches on their wings. The underbelly is lighter colored. Their wingspan is slightly over a foot long, and their beaks are pointed and nearly black.
Mockingbirds prefer to live in an edge type habitat, where there are some open places interspersed with trees and shrubs. They like to have a few high perches to choose from. Normally, they nest only a few feet off the ground, but sometimes they make their homes much higher.
Mockingbirds are monogamous. Often you see them in pairs, and they work hard to find a mate. During the spring mating season, they are especially noisy.
Unlike most birds, it is the male who does most of the nest building work. The outer part is constructed of twigs, but the eggs lay amidst finer delicate materials. Each nest takes a couple days to make.
These noisy birds don’t often reuse nests either. Some couples may raise several clutches each year and use a different nest each time.
Females lay three to five pale bluish-green eggs and they hatch in less than two weeks. Only females incubate eggs, but both parents feed the young for 10-12 days. The whole nest construction to fledging process takes less than four weeks. Then they start all over again.
Mockingbirds are not picky eaters. They eat insects when they are available. Beetles, wasps, ants and caterpillars are their favorite. When insects are scarce, they eat seeds and berries.
There are some mockingbirds that migrate southward for the winter and return to breed in northern climates. Around here, they’re year-round residents. Enjoy them, talk to them and they’ll talk back.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.