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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Q. In early March, I began to see and hear mockingbirds. I didn’t notice them in the winter. Do they migrate south in cold weather?

A. Let me start with a few words on public library services. Plans change rapidly as circumstances change, but the library is working to provide services even though our doors are closed. Please call 512-393-8200 for up-todate information.

Back to the mockingbirds. Apparently, mockingbirds don’t migrate. According to “Book of Texas Birds” by Gary Clark, mockingbirds are year-round residents throughout the state.

Clark turns immediately to the mockingbird’s song: “I doubt any human singer can match a mockingbird’s vocal endurance or its repertoire of songs. Combining tunes from other birds along with the disparate notes from such things as crickets, frogs, barking dogs, rusty door hinges, door-bells and cell phones, the mockingbird can render up to 250 unique harmonies. It can also mimic the songs of 36 different songbirds. Small wonder mockers have the scientific name of Mimus polyglottos, which translates as ‘many-tongued mimic.’

“Though a master imitator of bird songs and other sounds, the mockingbird always reveals its identity when singing by repeating one of its musical phrases or notes two to six times in rapid succession. Often the repeated notes sound like an out-of-tune piano banging out ‘churdee-churdee-churdee.’ Call note is a loud ‘chack.'"

Perhaps this person is noticing the mockingbirds because it is courting season. Clark writes: “No bird illustrates courtship song better than the male mockingbird, singing his heart out for females.

“In fact, a female mockingbird chooses her mate based on his song. She may be lured to the male that can sing the greatest number of harmonies and mimic the widest variety of other bird songs. A young male not selected (or maybe rejected) by a female may sing his poor little heart out all night in spring and summer. Perhaps his insufficient song repertoire makes him an undesirable mate.

“Were it not for its incredible vocal ability, the northern mockingbird would appear quite drab in its gray plumage and twin white wingbars. Males and females look alike, and juveniles have a comical-looking spotted breast.”

When Texas legislators adopted the mockingbird as the state bird in 1927, they wrote a resolution describing the bird as "a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan.”

Clark states: “The mocker’s aggressive song accompanies its aggressive antics. It is a tenacious and fearless defender of its territory, as many a cat will attest. A mocker will dive-bomb a cat encroaching on its territory, strike the feline with feet and beak, and force it to wander off weary from the incessant harassment.

“The mockingbird’s vibrant personality is indicated by its showy displays. It flies back and forth from tree limb to tree limb or fence post to fence post all the while flashing its wings like semaphores. The flashing wings probably help to scare away predators and scare up insects.”

Its diet is made up of invertebrates — including grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and spiders. It also dines on Yaupon berries, fruits and vegetables.

If you’d like to know more about mockingbirds, I recommend a UT Press book: “The Mockingbird” by Robin W. Doughty. We would be happy to put a copy on hold for you.

San Marcos Record

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