BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY


‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is commonly found in North America, but also has a wide range further afield. The species is plentiful on Abaco and in the northern Bahamas generally. I recently posted about Abaco’s other mocker, the local Bahama Mockingbird, HERE.

Northern Mockingbird 1

A DOZEN MEMORABLE MOCKINGBIRD FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

  • Only male mockingbirds sing
  • The Latin name means ‘many-tongued mimic’
  • They are omniverous and eat fruits, seeds, insects and even small lizards
  • They been shown in experiments to be capable of recognising individual humans
  • They are the State Bird of Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, & Texas
  • Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named “Dick” [wish I’d invented this one…]
  • Courting males fly around females to impress them with their splendid wing patterns
  • Mockingbirds are monogamous & mate for life (though known to play away on occasion…)
  • Both the male and female are involved in the nest building
  • Cowbirds are inclined to lay their eggs in mockingbird nests
  • Both male and female feed their chicks, in the modern way
  • Mockers will confront larger birds including hawks; also cats and dogs; & even humans

Northern Mockingbird 2

 IMITATIONAL SKILLS
Besides having a particularly wide song repertoire, the mockingbird will mimic other birds, other natural sounds (including dogs) and even man-made / mechanical sounds – car alarms, sirens and a whole lot more besides. Good old Wiki has this to say:
“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.” Northern Mockingbird 4
IMITATIVE MEMORY?
Remarkably, it seems that Northern Mockingbirds can inherit and store the imitations of their ancestors. We listened to a young one in the Abaco National Park with Caroline Stahala, the scientist i/c Abaco Parrot conservation. The bird was accurately mimicking a tufted titmouse, a bird it will never have heard and so cannot have learned from directly (and no other bird on Abaco sounds like the titmouse). 
NEW! Another remarkable nugget, gleaned from Bahamas bird authority and author Tony White, is that in early Spring you may hear the calls of Grey Kingbirds starting to arrive for their summer vacations. Do not be fooled; Northern Mockingbirds begin imitate the calls of this species about 2 weeks before they begin to arrive…
By way of comparison, here is a Northern Mockingbird I photographed at the beginning of the year in New York while walking the High Line (if you get the opportunity to do this, take it. The perfect solution for a defunct high-level railway track is to turn it into a walkway-cum-park-cum-viewing platform).  There are detectable differences, not least the brown frontal flecking.Northern Mockingbird NYC

THE INFLUENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS ON THE ARTS

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee, (1960); Film version (1962) starring, by amazing coincidence, Gregory Peck

“Listen to the Mocking Bird” (1855) An American folk song popular in the mid-19th century

“Mockingbird” (1974) Carly Simon duets with James Taylor, her (then) husband, one of several (though not simultaneous)

“Mockin’ Bird Hill” (1951) Les Paul & Mary Ford, later massacred in 1964 by ‘The Migill 5’

Star of the Lullaby that starts “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” That’s quite enough of that to be going on with

It turns out Mr Eminem has rapped up a ‘parental advisory’ and ‘explicit warning’ “Mockingbird” for our delectation. I was going to post the mp3 in a vaguely satirical way, but it is so numbingly dire that even his mum Mrs Mathers can’t bear to listen to it. So just enjoy the cover, then move on quickly to the birdsong video below…

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Audubon’s Mockingbirds
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMpe34Aign4]

Northern Mockingbird Eggs

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO


MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACOBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 1

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is slightly wider than the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI.  It is also a vagrant to the United States, especially southeastern Florida.

Bahama MockingbirdBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 4

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage.Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 6

Both species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations.Bahama Mockingbird 5We took a truck into the pine forest south of Delphi with well-known Abaco birder Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. They were quick to locate a bird, in part because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest Lumix (as you may detect). I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

Finally, the Northern Mockingbird below was photographed in a garden at Casuarina – far tamer and clearly very different from its cousin. The range map  shows the stark contrast with the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird.Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap