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Mock Yeah.. Ing Yeah... Bird Yeah...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, December 2, 2011 

During the summer of 2007 I worked for the State of Utah Department of Natural Resources conducting riparian breeding bird surveys across the southern half of Utah.  Riparian habitats in the south vary from as low as 2000' in elevation all the way up to 10,000'.  Most of the surveys I conducted were between 3200-4500', and the vast majority of those were flanked by open desert.  The predominant habitats that bordered included juniper woodlands, sage brush, and my personal favorite (sarcasm) greasewood.  These arid and sparsely vegetated areas had a very limited array of birds that could be found.  Most were tied to the water and trees along the streams they lined, and at most locations you could predict fairly accurately exactly what species you would find.  One of the most common species at most of the locations was the ubiquitous and sometimes obnoxious Northern Mockingbird.


Northern Mockingbird in St. George, Utah

This common eastern songstress is also very common in the desert southwest.  Found in a variety of habitats, ranging from backyards to barren desert, the mockingbird gets its name from the fact that it mimics other birds, amphibians, and insects.  Mockingbirds are known to sing repetitively for long periods of time, making them an annoyance for many people who aren’t interested in birds.  In some cases they master man made sounds as well, in the form of car horns, alarms, and other man-made noises, only adding to their already complex repertoires.

During my surveys I often encountered double digit numbers of Mockingbirds.  One morning between Capitol Reef and Hanksville I encountered a vocal male singing from a dead cottonwood surrounded by greasewood.  I watched him for sometime and eventually pulled out my camera to record the action--the video captured is below, How many songs and calls can you identify in this barrage of notes:


Northern Mockingbird along the Fremont River in southeastern Utah

Quite the show, and quite a wonder from the bird world. Some of my fondest memories of Mockingbirds are because of their habits of mocking, and continuous singing.  Once as Colby and Tom Neuman and I birded Lucin in the north West Desert a Cactus Wren erupted into song.  The only issue is we were 300 miles north of the nearest known Cactus Wren habitats.  The culprit was a Mockingbird that apparently was well traveled enough to have been near a Cactus Wren at some point to learn that song, but now was far from where it was schooled.

The other memory that stands out is laying on the Beaver Dam Slope in southwestern Utah in the middle of the night and being able to hear the mockingbirds from several directions singing continually from their perches atop Joshua Trees under a full moon.  Often the singing would go on for hours keeping me awake--and in awe of what a cool happening I was witness to.  How many people have been in that place and done the same thing?  While other lay in beds in cities hearing trains, cars, and man made commotion I was in the middle of nowhere, silent except for the Mockingbirds.  Truly one of our coolest birds.

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1 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great reference to a hilarious movie. I love listening to the mockingbirds sing their various songs in my yard.

December 4, 2011 at 3:11 PM  

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