Saturday, November 22, 2014

Update on the Mockingbirds - Are they still interfering? Adele Barger Wilson, author of Bonding with the Barn Swallows
Photos and text © 2014 Adele Wilson

Adventures in Bird Feeding will continue in the near future, with Part 3 to be about Cardinals. For now, this is an update on the Mockingbirds, whether they are still around, and whether they are still preventing other birds from eating at the feeders.  There is also a new development concerning Carolina Wrens that I will cover in the next post.

Mockingbird on feeder, May 8th
As explained in Part 1, I've been learning about the extremely territorial nature of Mockingbirds.  A pair of Mockingbirds has laid claim to the tree by the driveway, the tree from which my two suet feeders were hanging for many months.  By taking possession of that tree as part of their territory, the Mockingbirds have been chasing all other birds away from the tree and not allowing them to eat there.

My solution was to take one of the two suet cakes down from the tree and hang it on a new tree 50 to 60 feet away.  That new tree is a mimosa tree.

Female Cardinal, mimosa tree, Nov. 16th
It seems that hanging the second feeder on the new tree (the mimosa) might have solved the problem. So far, it looks like the Mockingbirds are not chasing the other birds from that tree, but I have wanted to be certain of that.  I also wanted to see if the Mockingbirds have vacated the neighborhood now that frigid weather has arrived.

So, yesterday afternoon I decided to sit on the porch to see whether I could find out the status of the Mockingbirds -- whether they are still around and whether they are still preventing the other birds from feeding.

I stationed myself on the porch in plain sight of any bird who might decide to approach.  It is difficult to sit still in below-freezing weather, but I was all bundled up and doing the best I could.  I didn't see any birds at first, but, after a few minutes, a Mockingbird landed on the suet feeder on the tree by the driveway, the tree that the Mockingbirds have been guarding. 

I must admit I was somewhat disappointed that the Mockingbirds were apparently still around.  They are year-round birds here in Eastern West Virginia, but I don't remember seeing any of them during our many weeks of snow cover last winter.  I don't mind them being around, but I dislike the way they have been chasing other birds from the feeder.

On the other hand, Mockingbirds certainly need to eat, as do all of the other birds.  After landing on the suet feeder, the Mockingbird proceeded to have a snack.  It didn't take long -- just a few seconds.  It was as if this bird, who I assumed to be the male, was demonstrating to me that he was the owner of the feeder!  Little did he know that, by his actions, I had already recognized him as the prime guardian of the territory, the bird who has been chasing the other birds from the feeder and the tree from which it hangs.

Just then, the male Mockingbird's mate arrived on the same tree.  Both of the birds then quickly flew to the fence, only 15 feet from the porch and closer to where I was sitting.  Perhaps the birds had decided to get a closer look at me.  Both birds continued to perch on the fence just a few feet from one another.  They were both pointed toward me and staring at me.

The fence is one of the perching posts typically used by the Mockingbirds to guard their territory.  The photo on the right, from June 2014, shows where the male Mockingbird was perching.

Soon the male flew from the fence to the ground and started foraging, supposedly for grass seed.  He continued foraging on the ground, gradually making his way toward the second tree, the mimosa tree to which I had moved one of the feeders a few weeks ago.

Once the male Mockingbird arrived at the mimosa tree, he suddenly flew up and landed on one of the branches.  His mate then flew to the tree to join him.  Perched on two separate branches, the two birds began staring at me.  By that time, I was getting quite cold and preparing to return inside. 

These two Mockingbirds are quite familiar with me.  They know me from having seen me for many months wandering around the building with my camera. 

I therefore began contemplating why the two birds had been demonstrating their activities to me, first on the suet feeder, then on the fence, the ground, and finally on the mimosa tree.  They were definitely trying to tell me something, but I was not sure what the something was.  Were they telling me that they were considering expanding their territory to include the mimosa tree?  Were they asking me to guard that tree for them?  Were they asking me to put out different types of suet cakes?

I don't have the answers.  Only about 25 per cent of the cakes on both trees have been eaten.  Perhaps the above-freezing weather that we had for a few days earlier this month has rendered the suet rancid.  On the other hand, I observed smaller birds eating from both cakes this morning.

Mockingbirds are survivalists.  They are opportunists who will pursue food sources in any manner that they can, and that could include trying to coax humans into giving them the type of food that they desire.

Perhaps the two Mockingbirds were asking me to put out a new type of suet mixture.  Or, perhaps they were asking me why I moved the second feeder to the mimosa tree.  It remains a mystery for now, but at least I have learned that the Mockingbirds are still around.

It's 11 a.m. right now, and the outdoor temperature is still below freezing.  Monday's temperatures are predicted to be in the 60's; so I am planning to further monitor the situation on that day.  In the meantime, I will try to figure out what the Mockingbirds were trying to say to me! 

Update, November 26, 2014:  Now that I've been thinking about it, the pair of Mockingbirds may have been merely expressing their displeasure at my having moved one of "their" suet cakes from the tree by the driveway to the mimosa tree.

Having first appeared at the tree by the driveway while I was watching from the porch, the male Mockingbird had taken a bite from the suet cake hanging there.  After flying to the fence and watching me for a while, both birds eventually gravitated to the mimosa tree.  It was as if they were showing me that they knew I had removed one of the cakes and hung it on the new tree.  I am hoping that they will not be translating their displeasure into taking possession of the tree!

I've decided that, from now on, I will be calling the tree by the driveway "The Mockingbird Tree".  Just before sunset this afternoon, the pair of Mockingbirds appeared on that tree and chased away several House Finches who were feeding there.  So, unfortunately, the Mockingbirds are still in possession of that tree and its name still fits:  The Mockingbird Tree!
Wild birds are not dumb!  They are sentient beings who often communicate specific things to humans.  You can read about how I determined this to be a fact based on my intimate experiences with Barn Swallows as described in my book, Bonding with the Barn Swallows.

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