do mockingbirds mock other birds

What do Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas have in common — other than a passion for college football? Theyve all chosen a feathered plagiarist as their official state bird. The Northern mockingbirds scientific name, Mimus polyglottos, means “mimic of many tongues.” It can imitate the noises made by cardinals, blue jays, wrens, titmice and a variety of other birds. Even more remarkable is this creatures spot-on impressions of car alarms and squeaking gates.

Mimus polyglottos is just one of the 14-plus mockingbird species out there. Many of these birds are known to replicate the sounds of other animals, which begs the question of “why?” Why do mockingbirds “mock?” What evolutionary advantage does this musical talent offer? And do they ever stop learning new songs?

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We spoke with biologist Dave Gammon of Elon University in North Carolina to obtain some answers. Mockingbirds happen to be his specialty. In an email, he states, “I started studying them over a decade ago.” At the time, “everyone was interested in” these experts in mimicry, but “no one studied their mimicry for more than a year or two.” “.

His investigations into their behavior cast doubt on an old assumption. Some birds like macaws and the European starling are capable of picking up new songs throughout their lives. Theyre whats known in the parlance of neurobiology as “open-ended learners.” Other birds are “close-ended learners,” which is to say they cannot master any new songs after reaching a certain age.

Ornithologists used to think mockingbirds were open-ended learners. That no longer seems to be the case. Gammon once contrasted recordings from 15 different mockingbirds over a period of many years. You would think that as these feathered musicians grew older, their repertoires would expand even more if they were always picking up new songs. Rather, Gammon discovered that as the birds grew older, they did not add to their individual song banks. “I think its safe to say,” Gammon says, “. that learning the song “Mockingbird” is not as flexible as most people initially believed “.

The mental roots of avian song acquisition are worth exploring. Eliot Brenowitz is a University of Washington psychology and biology professor. He is a specialist in the neurological development of birds and finds the process of our feathered friends learning to sing fascinating.

For some close-ended learners like zebra finches, hatchlings have just one year to memorize all the songs and calls theyll need to know as adults. Then the window closes and their ability to learn new material disappears. “In bird species that learn songs only as juveniles, a region of the brain necessary for learning (called LMAN) decreases in size and neuron number during the first year of life after hatching,” Brenowitz says via email. He adds that other “molecular changes” in the brain conspire to make learning more difficult as time passes. “No one has yet studied the brains of juvenile mockingbirds, so we dont know whether similar changes occur during their first year of life.”


What birds do mockingbirds imitate?

Gammon analyzed his recordings of campus mockingbirds and found that they most often mimicked the Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, and Eastern Bluebird. Never-mimicked species included the Mourning Dove and Chipping Sparrow.

Do mockingbirds bully other birds?

They often bully other birds away from feeding areas, even if it contains foods they do not like. You can keep Northern Mockingbirds from becoming a bully at your feeders by creating a feeding area just for them.

What kind of bird mimics other birds?

In North America master mimics include mockingbirds, thrashers, and catbirds; all of which are in the family Mimidae, so named because of this family’s skill at mimicking other species.

Are mocking birds aggressive to other birds?

Well, mockingbirds may not inflict too much physical damage to other birds, but they certainly are aggressive toward their feathered kin.