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Field Notes

It’s 11 a.m. and the day is beginning to warm up.  Most of the song birds have been singing, patrolling their territory and feeding since dawn.  Now it is time to slow down and rest up for a while.  The woods begin to quiet down.

But out front, in the top of a tall pine comes a complete cacophony of all kinds of bird calls.  There must be a hundred different birds up there, each singing their special song, one at a time.  How could that be?

It could be because it is a Mockingbird singing all the parts.  They love to sing and are great at imitating other birds, hence the name “Mimus polyglottos.”

The male mocker can mimic most anything it chooses and if you listen closely you may be able to pick out some of his targets.  The robin, the towhee and the oriole are easy pickings for Mr. Mocker.  All of this is quickly followed by the “chur-chur-chur-chur” of the cardinal and the buzzing of a catbird, then immediately launched into another series of calls too rapidly for this birder to identify.  Like an opera singer showing off his range, this mimic likes a challenge and is not limited to mere bird calls.  Door bells, car alarms, tree frogs, and insect calls can all be found as part of his repertoire.

This steel gray average size bird with the slim build, long tail and distinctive white wing bars can be found in most parts of West Virginia.  They will eat most anything including bugs, worms and fruits.  If you have a blueberry bush, you may have to wrap it in nets to keep the mockers out.   The pair here in Arbovale are still coming in to the barberry bushes in front of the Jansky Lab to grab the occasional barberry clinging to the bush from last year.

They like open areas, low grass and lawns, but will usually nest in the thick brush and not so much in the mature woods.  Pastures with multiflora rose are good places to find them but they have also adapted well to urban settings and are perfectly at home slipping between houses, shrubbery and woodlots.

Around here mockingbirds probably hatch out a couple of families, but further south with a longer summer, they may raise three or four sets of fledglings.  As parents, they are fearless defenders of their nest and territories and think nothing of taking on crows or hawks or even cats and dogs that venture too close.

I don’t recall seeing any mockingbirds around here 20 years ago.  But a warming climate and dynamic urban changes may be to their liking as I see and hear more mockers every summer.  And they are a welcome addition to the neighborhood.


‘Do Not Feed the Bears’

It’s that time of year again where the yearling bears are being sent packing while the sows prepare for their next family.  These juvenile – actually about 18 month old – bears tend to wander aimlessly in search of food.  Truthfully there is not a lot out there right yet and they get tired of eating grass and greens.

In Arbovale, Dorothy Sutton had several visits from one of these young eating machines, lured in by some tasty cat food on the back porch.  So be aware.  Don’t feed the bears or do anything to encourage them.  They could become a real problem then.  Soon there will be nuts and berries a- plenty and the bears will keep themselves scarce.

Dave is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at davecurry51@

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