If I have haven’t said it enough in this column already, let me say it again. Things in the natural world are not always as they seem. Oftentimes birders will rely not only on their sight for observations, but on their ears as well. However, when it comes to the official state bird of Texas, what one hears may not be the species that is actually present.
The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is an extremely common bird throughout much of the southern portions of the United States, ranging from the Atlantic Seaboard westward to northern California. From there it occurs throughout much of the Chihuahuan Desert, Mexican Plateau and Sierra Madre eco-regions of Mexico. It can be observed throughout the entire state of Texas. It is not a migratory species, meaning that it occurs in its Texas range year-round.
This attractive and subtly colorful species of bird is of small to medium build with a body length of approximately twelve inches, while the wingspan can approach five inches more. The breast coloration of adults is generally light gray to nearly white; juvenile bird’s breast coloration is the same but usually have several scattered gray-brown spots as well. The back is colored a medium gray, as is the crest of the head. The wings are a mixture of gray and black with two white wing bars near the shoulder area and large white patches on the outer wing area. The tail is quite long, colored like the wings and has white outer feathers. The black beak is short and thick, while the legs are gray, long and thin.
Both the common name and the scientific name of this avian species adequately describe the voice imitations that bird will utilize while calling. The common name “mockingbird” describes the many imitations that this bird will sound off with, including items that are not only other birds, but dogs, insects and even machinery. The scientific epithet is derived from the Latin words “poly” which means “many” and “glottos” which refers to the “tongue”.
Mockingbirds are commonly seen while foraging for food in and around human habitations, primarily while on the ground or perched on a fencepost. It is an omnivorous species, which means it feeds on both plant and animal material. The animal portion of the diet is primarily small invertebrates such as moths, grasshoppers, and beetles; the plant portion includes a variety of fruits.
This bird typically prefers to live a solitary life except during mating season, the timing which can vary annually depending on weather conditions. This species of bird is monogamous, and research has shown that a pair may establish a long-term breeding relationship. Two to three broods per year are produced, with the cup-shaped nest containing between two and six one inch bluish to greenish eggs that are marked with small blotches of brown. Incubation time is a mere two weeks, and the young are unable to take care of themselves at hatching. Both sexes will feed the young birds during the next two weeks as the youngsters learn to hunt for food and to evade predators.
Mockingbirds tend to be somewhat less timid than other bird species, often allowing observers to get in close proximity before flying away to an area where it feels safe again. Mockingbirds thrive in a wide variety of habitats, although most are seen near man-made structures. It can be enticed to visit a bird feeder that is filled with various seeds and fruits.