I recently witnessed one of the most well-executed examples of mockery to ever greet my ears. It happened one evening as I sat reading on the deck of my residence at the Groscup Center. It was a very pleasant evening with several groups of people playing disc golf on the nearby course. I could also vaguely hear another group of park visitors talking as they stood atop Sky Rock.
I'm not entirely sure when the "incident" started, but I first became aware of it when I heard what I took to be a Killdeer calling. As you may know, Killdeer are a species of grasslands "shorebird" that are often seen on golf courses, beaches and in the parking lots of shopping centers. I had heard Killdeer flying above Dorsey's Knob Park before, but this one seemed to be calling from the top of a tree. Wait! Although a Killdeer is a bird, they do not land in trees. Or at least I've never before seen one in a tree.
Suddenly, the Killdeer stopped calling and a Northern Cardinal began singing from the same direction. Then after but a few seconds, the cardinal stopped singing only to be replaced by a snippet of song from a White-eyed Vireo. At this point, it became evident that we had a Northern Mockingbird singing from a treetop. It took but a moment to locate the mimic perched in the highest branch of a Black Cherry tree.
Mockingbirds are members of the Mimidae family, which also includes catbirds and thrashers. All of them are noted for their ability to mock the songs of other birds. By far, mockingbirds are the champion mimics within this bird family. I have even heard them mimic car alarms!
Most likely, male Northern Mockingbirds mimic the songs of other birds as a way of "showing off" to the females. It takes time and experience to learn a lot of songs. Ostensibly, only those individuals with good genes survive long enough to accumulate a long "playlist" of songs.
As I listened to this mockingbird sing one song after another, it became obvious that he had been around for awhile. And when I heard him imitate a Belted Kingfisher, I realized that this bird had previously lived at some other place. I knew this because there simply are no kingfishers high on the hill at Dorsey's Knob Park.
Hands down, this mockingbird could mock more species of birds than any other mocker I had previously heard. I couldn't identify every species mimicked, but what follows is a list of the songs that I did hear.
And yes...a car alarm, which is sometimes heard in the Dorsey's Knob parking lot.
Field Notes from Dorsey's Knob
Thoughts and observations on the natural history and current happenings at Dorsey's Knob Park.
About the Author
John Boback is a naturalist, historian, environmental educator and caretaker at Dorsey's Knob Park. He can often be seen around the park staring intently into the trees through binoculars or crouched down trying to photograph a wildflower or an interesting insect. If you see him, take a moment to say hello.