Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Mockingbirds are a pleasure to have aroundBy CHERYL KIMBALL July 22. 2016 8:53PM
THE FIRST TIME I ever experienced a mockingbird was many years ago while renting a side-by-side duplex in a lovely, rambling old house in Portsmouth’s South End. My bedroom was on the first floor. One early spring morning when the windows were finally able to be opened, I started to hear birds stirring outside the window. In maybe five minutes after hearing several different species in succession all coming from the same spot outside the window, I realized I was listening to a mockingbird hard at work imitating other birds' songs.
I have never seen a mockingbird on the property on which I’ve lived for the past 23 years. These graceful, medium-sized birds seem to tend to be townies. Every time I have driven through Rochester in the past year or so, I have seen a mockingbird. Just yesterday leaving a big-box store parking lot, I noticed a bird fly into some shrubs. On the ground, the birds are quickly spotted by their angled posture and long legs. They are readily identified in flight by the telltale white bands on the bird’s wings. A mockingbird seemed to be living at the shopping plaza.
Last fall as I waited in an exam room at my veterinary clinic (which has a city address but actually is a pretty rural location) while my dog was getting x-rays, I was happy to be distracted by watching three mockingbirds out the room’s two windows. I spotted them first in a paved side parking lot. They hopped around under cars and made their way to the lawn surrounding the clinic. The birds did not group together but followed each other in and around the shrubs bordering the building. Although this could certainly have been a family — mom, dad and this year’s fledgling — this was late September so they were likely well beyond baby bird teaching mode and simply hanging around together.
“Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior” Volume I (my edition copyright 1979 from Little, Brown) covers mockingbirds who are, in fact, “partial to living in urban areas.” They form two territories — one for nesting and one for food sources. And in each season and territory, Stokes’ says, they are defensive against different birds, depending on whether they might be predatory on the mockingbird’s young or nesting space, or competing for the same food. Interestingly, in the spring only the male sings; in the fall both male and female strike up the chorus.
The other interesting thing reported in the Stokes’ book is that the male “may be heard singing even in the middle of the night, especially if the moon is bright.” I may just have to head to that parking lot next time there is a full moon, roll down my windows, and listen for the big-box mockingbird.
In other news
In other bird news, I received a couple responses to the query about robins with the bay window fetish. Pamela from parts unknown says she had a similar issue with a bird being obsessed with her bay window, but this was a catbird. The bird “pecked so hard there would actually be blood and feathers on the window.” Her husband came up with the idea of tearing a page out of a magazine with a person on it and taping it to the window. Apparently it worked like a charm. Your neighbors may think you are a little odd, but there is always a price to pay …
Another strange story I heard at the hair salon I go to was about bluebirds. Amy kindly put up a bluebird house in their yard and was repaid with a self-obsessed demon. The bird not only pecked at their window but would slam at it with his feet and apparently poop while he did, smearing bird droppings all over the window. And he didn’t contain himself to just the window but would do this to anything else in which he saw his reflection, including the side mirror of her husband’s truck, which would be smeared with bird poo daily. Amy’s husband accidentally left his truck window open one day and you can imagine the ending to that story — seats covered in bluebird poop. I suspect the ultimate ending to that story is that when breeding season ends, the bluebird will lose interest in himself. And sadly I doubt any bluebird house will be in that yard next year!
Anyone else have some crazy bird stories? I would love to hear them and pass them along for other readers to enjoy.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.