Mockingbirds sing through the Southern Illinois night

Thursday, May 3, 2007

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- If children are to be seen and not heard, the opposite holds true of the northern mockingbird. There is nothing shy or retiring about this species.

"The thing mockingbirds will do is sing all night long, especially on a full moon," said Mike Baltz of The Nature Conservancy. "They will sing at night. They are interesting for their song.

"They are mimics, in the same group as thrashers and catbirds. They'll sing phrases. They'll have a repertoire. In addition to bird songs, they'll also pick up sounds that they hear."

Mockingbirds can frequently be seen in populated areas of Southern Illinois.

"Here, they're not common, but they aren't uncommon," Baltz said. "The mockingbird tends to be really a bird of the suburbs. More often than not, you see them on a berry bush in your backyard or your neighbor's backyard."

Where they probably won't be seen is at the backyard feeder. They are insectivores during the summer, but do not migrate.

"Because they shift in the wintertime to berries, they can make it through the winter in a place like this, as opposed to most songbirds who are insect eaters," Baltz said.

Although they probably won't be drawn to feeders, there are ways to draw mockingbirds to your yard.

"If you're going to look at planting things, [try] anything that has an edible berry from a bird's perspective," Baltz said.

Baltz noted that the mockingbird is really a southern bird. Southern Illinois is on the edge of its northern range.

Although an attractive, melodic bird, the mockingbird has strong survival instincts.

"They are famously aggressive in their territory," Baltz said. "If you've been dive-bombed by one, you'd use that term. Mockingbirds are pretty aggressive if you get pretty close to their nests. Nothing like Alfred Hitchcock, but they'll swoop at a dog or a cat."

In addition, they are not subject to nest plundering from brown-headed cowbirds.

"They'll remove cowbird eggs from their nests," Baltz said. "It's that whole group of mimic thrushes, that egg recognition and cowbird egg removal. They all do it.

"It's an interesting kind of trait."

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