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.