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By Allen C. Turner and Judy Boyd Field Ornithologists
Mockingbirds: Pirates of the High Cs
“Tra la la, tweedle dee dee dee
It gives me a thrill
To wake up in the morning
To the mockingbird’s trill
… On Mockingbird Hill”
Gray with two white wingbars, the Northern Mockingbird is among the least spectacular birds, visually. The most distinctive feature is its expansive repertoire—especially for those, as yet, un-mated males. Play list matters: the bigger the better. Studies indicate that the greater the variety, the more females are attracted. And, with this selective mating, ever expanding repertories has been the evolutionary consequence.
This is not truly mimicry or imitation—terms suggesting deception —but “vocal appropriation.” Now I can appreciate the attractiveness of melodic variation but tell me what Ms. MB gets from hearing the guy bark like a dog. Last year I tracked down a daily car alarm to a tree top in Chula Vista. A California college campus had memorized a series of cell phone ring-tones.
Farther south past the Isthmus (check your map; it is the narrow neck just west of Chiapas) is a similar species, the Tropical Mockingbird, which lacks the white wingpatches having white wingbars instead. And its playlist is less diverse than its northern compatriot.
The Northern Mockingbird range includes all of Mexico and north to the mid-latitudes of the United States. Look for them leaping into the air and singing from the top of the tallest trees as they defend their territory and attract mates. Another similar sounding local bird is the Curve-billed Thrasher which is also a member of the family Mimidae.
Now the Blue Mockingbird is a bird of a different color. Dark blue-gray with a darker eye-patch the Blue does not make use of other bird’s calls but has a fine song book nonetheless. They are also much more reclusive, hiding in the darker shadows of bushes. Their range extends from northern Mexico to south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In the Chiapas and “thumb” of Mexico, you will find the Blue and White Mockingbird who is blue-black with a white underbelly.
Next time you hear a melodic bird song, look up for the Northern Mockingbird and into the shadows for the Blue Mockingbird.
You may want to join with other birders, known locally as Los Audubonistas, as we explore the birdlife of Lake Chapala. Visit our website at avesajijic.com to download birding checklists and maps of birding hotspots in the area. You can also join with us on our “bird walks” by entering your email address on our website. We will send you newsletters announcing upcoming events and reports of bird sightings around Lakeside.
Photos by Vince Gravel.