This Week’s Creature Feature: Voice Mimics

Don’t let your ear fool you

      Several North American birds imitate sounds that they hear around them. These mimics usually copy other birds, like the blue jay that commonly makes the call of a red-tailed hawk. As I follow birdcalls to take a photograph, I have to admit that I have been fooled more than once by a well-tuned blue jay. 
       The northern mockingbird collects songs of other birds and cycles through their play list. Mockingbirds also are great at making songs of their own as they add to their song list while perched in the open. These mimics are common in cities and neighborhoods. They also like to walk through grass and open their wings to startle bugs into jumping.
        The brown thrasher is a secretive singer that imitates many different birds but will also copy engine noises, doorbells, dogs growling and other random noises they hear. Their reclusive nature keeps them away from people and not usually around homes or cities. They also eat insects.
       The gray catbird is named from its mewing cat-like sound. Catbirds also imitate many other birds and sounds around them. Because they are a migratory species, catbirds frequently bring back sounds from where they overwinter. When the male catbird returns to my yard, it will call out the bobwhite sound of a northern quail even through no quail have lived around me since I moved to Maryland. The catbird likes to live around dense vines and brambles and is common around suburban areas. Catbirds feed on insects but will supplement with berries, including those stolen from people’s gardens.