Mimus Polyglottos - Northern Mockingbird | Hampton Bays, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Melville, United States

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Artist's Description

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Mimidae
Genus: Mimus
Species: M. polyglottos
Binomial name
Mimus polyglottos
Although many species of bird imitate the vocalizations of other birds, the northern mockingbird is the best known in North America for doing so. Among the species and vocalizations imitated are Carolina wren, northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, eastern towhee, house sparrow, wood thrush and eastern bluebird songs, calls of the northern flicker and great crested flycatcher, jeers and pumphandles of the blue jay, and alarm, chups, and chirrs of the American robin. It imitates not only birds, but also other animals such as cats, dogs, frogs, crickets and sounds from artificial items such as unoiled wheels and even car alarms. As convincing as these imitations may be to humans, they often fail to fool other birds, such as the Florida scrub-jay.
The northern mockingbird’s mimicry is likely to serve as a form of sexual selection through which competition between males and female choice influence a bird’s song repertoire size. A 2013 study attempted to determine model selection in vocal mimics, and the data suggested that mimicry in the mockingbird resulted from the bird being genetically predisposed to learning vocalizations with acoustic characteristics such as an enlarged auditory template.
Both male and female mockingbirds sing, with the latter being generally quieter and less vocal. Male commencement of singing is in late January to February and continue into the summer and the establishing of territory into the fall. Frequency in female singing is more sporadic, as it sings less often in the summer and fall, and only sings when the male is away from the territory. The mockingbird also possesses a large song repertoire that ranges from 43 to 203 song types and the size varies by region. Repertoire sizes ranged from 14 to 150 types in Texas, and two studies of mockingbirds in Florida rounded estimates to 134 and 200, approximately. It continually expands its repertoire during its life, though it pales in comparison to mimids such as the brown thrasher.
There are four recognized calls for the mockingbird: the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call. The hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall. Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used by either sex when disturbed. The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.

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