The Rich Little of the birds

Ok, you don’t remember Rich Little?  I’m showing my age again.  I certainly don’t remember him from his heyday, but I do remember when he used to show up on Solid Gold to do his little schtick where he imitated famous people.  He was (more or less) a vocal mimic- he would tell jokes or do “wacky” things in the voices of famous people.   Anyway, he came to mind this morning (not because I was practicing my Solid Gold dancing), but because of one of my songbird friends.

This morning, I left my place for a run and as I closed my front door, I heard a car alarm.  It was an odd sounding alarm, though, but clearly the wroowroowroo pattern of one.  Within in flash, though, that car alarm changed into a two-noted whistle, followed by the “teakettle” song of a Carolina Wren, followed by another 3 note slurred whistle, followed by robin-like churrr.  This song went on, at least until I ran too far away to hear it anymore and it wasn’t being made by lots of different birds, it was all one individual:  a Northern Mockingbird.

These birds are truly one of my favorites because of their vast repertoire size.  One individual bird may have hundreds of different songs that he sings, though he always repeats them in a mockingbird-like fashion (usually 3 or 4 repeats).  Mockingbirds are feisty little birds and on more than one occasion I have lured one in close by mimicking one of them (they don’t appreciate it so much).   Pay close attention to the songs of the mockingbirds that you hear, now.  As the breeding season progresses, the variation in their repertoire presentation is likely to change.  When courting, mockingbirds make extra effort to mix it up.  They tend to throw in rare variant songs more frequently so that they don’t repeat themselves too often.  The female mockingbirds seem to like that.

Derrickson, K.C.  1988. Variation in repertoire presentation in Northern Mockingbirds.  Condor 90:  592-606


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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