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It’s In Our Nature: Our bird mimics

Before summer ends, well actually today, I wanted to discuss three related birds who belong to the bird Family Mimidae. The three are all residents of the Times News area. One, the mockingbird can be found year-round. The catbird will be here for another week or two while the third, the brown thrasher, has probably already headed for warmer climes.

The noisiest of this group is the mockingbird. It is an expert mimic. Some mockingbirds can mimic up to 200 other bird songs. The female sings very little, not like the never tiring male at breeding time. Mockingbirds are one of the few birds that sing at night. A few early summer nights I actually had to go outside and shake the small tree outside the bedroom window to chase one away.

Mockingbirds are very protective of their nest area and seem fearless, even dive-bombing crows that are three times their size. They peck at the back of a flying crow trying to escape the onslaught. They’ll chase the neighbor’s cat and may even make a dive or two at you if you get too close.

I never saw any mockingbirds in my East Weissport neighborhood as a youngster. That was because the mockingbirds have, over the last 60 or 70 years, gradually expanded their range northward from their normal southern range. They are now common in almost every state.

Its northward expansion was credited to the increased planting of fruit bearing trees and shrubs used for wildlife plantings - multiflora rose and autumn olive to name a few.

Of course our milder winters have contributed as well. In fact, with so many shrubs offering food all winter, it is now common to see them in any winter month. Mockingbirds are seldom found far from human activities. If you hike the Broad Mountain or in the Bethlehem watershed area, don’t expect to find them there.

The catbird can be very accepting of human activity too. If you live in an area with abundant shrubs or a woodlot nearby, they are most likely found there. We have a pair nesting each year and they readily accept the grape jelly I supply them in a small condiment dish on our deck railing. When they arrive in early May, they also eat the suet from my suet feeder.

Catbirds will also mimic other birds, but not nearly as much the “mocker.” Catbirds got their name from the common catlike song they have. They will nest in the lower branches of evergreen trees or in shrubs. Two nests each summer are the norm.

They may still be seen until late September and then move to the southern U.S. to spend the winter.

The third member of the mimics is the brown thrasher and it is the largest. With its rather long tail is reaches about 11 inches. Thrashers mimic other bird songs but usually only “two notes” at a time. This is repeated many times.

In late April when they arrive, listen for that 2-note sequence and then look for the male perched on an exposed shrub top or low tree. However, they do most of their feeding on the ground and love thick, brushy areas to nest and feed. They don’t overwinter in the Times News area and like the catbird can be found in our southern states, including Florida.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Of the three mimics, which one often flutters up from its perch singing, lands again, and then repeats the small vocal aerial display?

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The praying mantis belongs to the insect Order Orthoptera.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Mockingbird males, particularly in spring and early summer, will find an elevated perch - even a light post - to sing and sing and sing their favorite bird mimic repertoire. BARRY REED PHOTOS
I photographed this mockingbird in December in a grape vine tangle where it was able to find a few withered grapes. Note the white wing bars especially noticeable in flight.
The brown thrasher is the largest of our local mimics. They'll sing from an elevated perch but are seldom seen out in “the open” and far from thickets. I was lucky enough to snap this photo in the few seconds before flying to a nearby shrub. Remember, listen for their two note song, often repeated multiple times though.
The gray catbird is rather common and its population remains stable. Maybe because it can do well in the suburbs and also in forests and field edges. Some are still in our area as of this writing but will soon be heading a few hundred miles south to overwinter. They still are singing their cat-like mews.