Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mockingbirds and Shrikes

The Northern Mockingbird is a very interesting bird that we may not "get to know" because mockingbirds are not "feeder birds" -- meaning they are not seed-eaters. However, they are very common and you can often see them in yards, or along the roadside on fence-posts and powerlines. (You can tell I spend a lot of time in the country!) And even if you haven't seen one, which is unlikely, you have certainly heard them! The mockingbird is a "mimic" bird and can recreate all sorts of sounds. Their song is usually in four parts. I once heard a mockingbird in the park-and-ride whose song included an engine that wouldn't start and the sound of a bus backing up (you know: beep-beep-beep-beep). The sounds were very accurate!

While these pictures show mockingbirds perched, they are very recognizable when flying because they have large white patches on their wings, which are not obvious when the bird is at rest. Cornell has a drawing of a mockingbird in flight (sorry I don't have a picture of my own), as well as a recording of a mockingbird's song.

Another bird similar in appearance to the mocking bird is the Northern Shrike. Shrikes like to catch lizards and hang them on barbed-wire, for later consumption. This picture, taken from below, does not show the similarity between these birds and the mockingbirds, however it does point out some of the differences. Both birds are gray on their upper sides, but the Shrike is somewhat smaller, has a larger head and has a prominent black stripe across the eyes.

I should also mention that I have never noticed a shrike in the city. But then, I wasn't as much of a birder when I lived in the city. ;-)

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