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The Mockingbirds
Nature Bulletin No, 229   May 8, 1982
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE MOCKINGBIRDS
The Mockingbird, the Catbird and the Brown Thrasher are called "mockers' or mimics because, in addition to the superb quality and variety of their natural songs, they imitate those of other birds. Most versatile and famous is the mockingbird which may not only reproduce phrases borrowed from as many as twenty birds in its neighborhood but also the barking of a dog, the cackling of a hen, the squeal of a pig, or even the squeaking of a wagon wheel. The length of the phrase may vary from a single note, such as the caw of a crow, to the song of a robin. The catbird is not as accomplished a mimic but excels the brown thrasher. The mockingbird repeats each phrase three or more times: the brown thrasher usually repeats once; and the catbird does not repeat at all.

The mockingbird is about the size of a robin except that it is more slender and has a longer tail. Both sexes have brownish-gray backs, are whitish or grayish below and, on the wings and tail, have large white markings which are especially conspicuous in flight. It is abundant in the southern states, and is the official bird of Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. A few are seen in the Chicago and other northern regions every year. It prefers open areas with a few trees and dense shrubbery, near towns and farms, where the male pugnaciously defends a territory against cats, snakes, hawks and other birds. The bulky nest of sticks, weeds and trash, vined with root1ets, horsehair and cotton, is built in a shrub or small tree and in it are laid from 3 to 5 eggs -- greenish, buffy or blue; blotched with brown or purplish spots. Frequently, three broods are reared in a season .

In addition to music borrowed from other birds, often interrupted by harsh grating calls, the male is famous for his rapturous mating song which is a gurgling series of sweet liquid notes, sung not only in daytime but throughout moonlight nights. In spring and early summer they feed largely upon insects, including many injurious kinds. Later, their food is largely berries, seeds and wild fruits.

The brown thrasher, "Mockingbird of the North," is common throughout the United States and southern Canada east of the Rockies. Its loud clear mating song is a brilliant medley of short emphatic phrases, usually sung from the top of some tall tree. A little longer and slimmer than a robin, with a long tail like the other mockers, both sexes are colored alike; rich reddish-brown above, with a creamy breast heavily and darkly streaked. They spend much of their time on or near the ground. The bulky well-lined nest is built in a low thorny tree, a vine-entangled bush, or even on the ground; and contains 4 or 5 whitish or greenish-white eggs with reddish-brown dots. The parents make clicking and hissing noises if the nest is approached. Two broods are usually raised each year. In spring and summer they feed on insects, spiders and worms, most of which they gather from beneath fallen leaves; later on wild fruits, acorns and waste grain.

The catbird, so-called because of its catlike mewing cry when disturbed, is common throughout much of the United States and southern Canada. Smaller than the thrasher, both sexes are blue-gray with black caps. It, too, prefers thickets and dense shrubbery near towns and country homes, but the catbird sings from concealment and his beautiful mating song -- as sweet but not so loud as the thrasher's - - is frequently heard on moonlight nights. He cleverly imitates other birds and harsh noises. In autumn he has a "whisper" song which is barely audible. She lays 4 to 6 glossy blue-green unmarked eggs in a well-hidden bulky nest, usually twice each year.

The catbird is a copycat.


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