June 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

Northern Mockingbird at sunrise © Bob Montanaro
Northern Mockingbird (MImus polyglottos)

The Florida Scrub-jay, found only in Florida (endemic), deserves to be our Florida State Bird, yet our State chose the Northern Mockingbird. The Mockingbird, found in all lower 48 United States and introduced into Hawaii, is beloved and known to everyone, singing gaily, cheering us up. Bob Montanaro’s photograph shows this Mockingbird is an early riser, typically beginning to sing a variety of complex songs at first light.

Taken with a Canon EOS 20D, 400 mm, ISO 400, Montanaro’s photo clearly illustrates distinguishing features: overall plain gray with white wing bar and black with white edged wing feathers, even the black eye stripe. In flight, outside tail feathers flash white and wings reveal white spots. Males and females are indistinguishable.

This year-round resident has adapted to suburban habitats. Thus, scientists use them to monitor infectious diseases (e.g. West-Nile Virus) and environmental contaminants (lead and pesticides). Nesting in backyard bushes, liking newly mowed grass, they easily forage for arthropods (beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers) and fruits; yet can take quick cover in surrounding shrubs.

Sharing parenting duties allows Mockingbirds to overlap the timing of their broods, having about four clutches per year during breeding season – late January to August. Though the female primarily broods the young, both share feeding of the young and defending the nest aggressively, chasing after intruders like crows, hawks, and humans.

Have you awakened in the middle of the night hearing a Mockingbird’s repetitive call? Most likely it is an unattached male trying a variety of calls with short-bout repetitions that are more likely to attract a female. Mockingbirds continue life-long learning, up to 200 different songs, by mimicking other birds and even mechanical sounds. Yet mockingbirds are light sensitive, usually stopping singing at sunset. So males are more likely to be singing their hearts out on moonlit nights­–romantic, right?

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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