The Northern Mockingbird or Mimus polyglottos is a songbird commonly found in North America. They are a unique songbird species that imitate the sounds other birds make and incorporate them into their song repertoires.
Calls and Songs
Among the songs in the northern mockingbird’s repertoire, more than half are imitated from the sounds other creatures make. In fact, it’s the scientific name, Mimus polyglottos is Latin for many-tongued mimic because of this. The chirrs and cups of the American Robin, the jeers of the Bluejay, and the calls of the Great Crested Flycatcher are some of the sounds the mockingbird imitates.
This mimicry is thought to be a form of sexual selection, by which the competition of male mockingbirds and the female bird’s choice of mate is correlated with the size of the male mockingbird’s song repertoire.
There are four scientifically recognized mockingbird calls: the hew call, nest relief call, that bursts, and the begging call. The hew call is used for when a potential nest predator is sighted, when chasing another mockingbird, or when males interact with females. Chatbursts are used by mockingbirds all through-out the year while the begging call and nest relief calls are used only by male northern mockingbirds.
Northern Mockingbirds can sing for hours. They can be heard chirping and calling at different times of the day in seemingly random times. However, most singing normally occurs in the morning. Nocturnal singing was also observed to occur when the bright light of a full moon showed. They have also been seen to start singing around half-an-hour to an hour before the sun rises.
Learners For Life
Mockingbirds are also opened-ended learners, which means that they learn new songs all throughout their lives. A mature mockingbird will have learned anywhere from forty to one-hundred-fifty different songs and sounds in its lifetime. Of course, it must be noted that mockingbirds are sedentary birds, which means that most of the sounds they learn will be from local species.
Birds have been known to be one of the most intelligent creatures on earth. This is especially true with the northern mockingbird. The mockingbird has been shown to recognize individual humans, especially those who it felt were threatening and were a danger to its nest. These birds also recognize breeding areas and are more likely to return to those areas where they had the most success in the past.
The Northern Mockingbird in Culture
The Northern Mockingbird is also a staple in American culture, featuring in the title and the principle metaphor in Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It represented innocence and generosity. Atticus Finch, a central character, says that to kill a mockingbird is a sin “because they do not do anything but sing their hearts out for us.”
And sing their hearts out they do. The songs sung by the northern mockingbird are the purest representation of nature in sound. By singing for hours and hours on end, the Northern Mockingbird is a master of song.