He’s back

Northern Mockingbird (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)At lunch time my friend Karen and I walk Pitt's campus near the Cathedral of Learning to see if we can find the peregrines.  Today we found a bird we hadn't seen since last spring - a northern mockingbird. 

All last winter and into early spring we usually saw a mockingbird perched high on the hedge in front of Heinz Chapel.  He (or perhaps she) became more active and territorial as spring approached.  I hoped he would nest on campus, but he disappeared before nesting time.  Now he's back.  

The photo above, by Marcy Cunkelman, is not our Pitt mockingbird but he is in a typical pose.  Marcy's mockingbird looks puffed out because he is trying to stay warm but his 'stare you down' look and his cocked tail are just like the bird Karen and I see near Heinz Chapel.

Our mockingbird is probably a winter visitor.  Northern mockingbirds, despite their name, used to be a southern species and did not nest in western Pennsylvania.  For the past century they have been expanding their range northward.  Our winter mockingbird's habits suggest he breeds so far north that a Pittsburgh winter feels mild.

How do I know he wasn't here all year?  Mockingbirds are hard to miss at any season.  Not only do they sing nearly all year - and will sing all night in the spring - but they love to perch in plain view.  They are very territorial and noisy in nesting season.  Last spring I participated in the 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas project so I looked for this bird, hoping to confirm that mockingbirds were nesting near Heinz Chapel.  No.  Oh well. 

How do I know it's the same bird every year?  Well, I don't.  But he follows the same routine and has the same favorite perches.  For his part, he is probably thinking that he cannot be sure I am the same human who looks at him every winter but I seem to follow the same routine and walk past him at the same spot at the same time of day.

Funny how that works both ways.


4 thoughts on “He’s back

  1. So, does he have any good songs in his repertoire? “Truck Backing Up”, “Car Alarm”, “Police Siren”?

    I once read that the mimicking might be to indicate the diversity of species that the bird’s territory supports. If the bird knows a lot of songs, it would indicate that he lives somewhere rich enough to support a great diversity of species. This idea has led me to ponder what the bird is thinking when it sings “Truck Backing Up”…

    “Hey, pretty ladies! I have a fabulously productive territory! Among numerous other species, it supports a garbage truck! Have you ever seen how much those things eat? Hey, pretty ladies…”

  2. And why not assume it is the same bird? And even if it isn’t there is a sense of continuity when with each season particular bird(s) show up in our lives.

  3. Sibley and Monroe (1990) recognize 16 species of mimids that bear the common name “mockingbird”, and the only one to reach as far north as even our southeastern United States is Mimus polyglottus, hence our Northern Mockingbird. The one that comes next closest, in terms of northerly extension, is the Bahama Mockingbird.

  4. We have had a mockingbird all winter long here in Hershey. PA. He waits for me to put the mealworms out for the bluebirds and then he takes his share first. I think he may be living in a large forsythia bush located behind our shed. The bush is less then ten feet from where I feed the bluebirds. He does bully the bluebirds but other than that he is just noisy. He isn’t really afraid of me. He will begin to eat before I even get five feet away.

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