1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mocking-bird

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MOCKING-BIRD, or Mock-bird (as W. Charleton, J. Ray and M. Catesby called it), the popular name of birds belonging to the American sub-family Miminae, of the thrushes Turdidae, differing by having the tarsus scutellate in front, while the typical thrushes have it covered by a single horny plate. Mimus polyglottus, the northern mocking-bird, inhabits the southern part of the United States, being in the north only a summer visitant; it breeds rarely in New England, is seldom found north of the 38th parallel, and migrates to the south in winter, passing that season in the Gulf States and Mexico. It appears to be less numerous on the western side of the Alleghanies, though found in suitable localities across the continent to the Pacific coast, but seldom farther north than Virginia and southern Illinois, and it is said to be common in Kansas. J. J. Audubon states that the mocking-birds which are resident all the year round in Louisiana attack their travelled brethren on the return of the latter from the north in autumn. The names of the species, both English and scientific, have been bestowed from its capacity of successfully imitating the cry of many other birds, to say nothing of other sounds, in addition to uttering notes of its own which possess a varied range and liquid fullness of tone that are unequalled, according to its admirers, even by those of the nightingale (q.v.).

Plain in plumage, being greyish brown above and dull white below, while its quills are dingy black, variegated with white, there is little about the mocking-bird's appearance beyond its graceful form to recommend it; but the lively gesticulations it exhibits are very attractive, and therein its European rival in melody is far surpassed, for the cock-bird mounts aloft in rapid circling flight, and, alighting on a conspicuous perch, pours forth his ever-changing song to the delight of all listeners, while his actions in attendance on his mate are playfully demonstrative and equally interest the observer. The mocking-bird is moreover of familiar habits, haunting the neighbourhood of houses, and is therefore a general favourite. The nest is placed with little regard to concealment, and is not distinguished by much care in its construction. The eggs, from three to six in number, are of a pale bluish-green, blotched and spotted with light yellowish-brown. They, as well as the young, are much sought after by snakes, but the parents are often successful in repelling these deadly enemies, and are always ready to wage war against any intruder on their precincts, be it man, cat or hawk. Their food is various, consisting of berries, seeds and insects.

Some twelve or fourteen other species of Mimus have been recognized, mostly from South America; but M. orpheus seems to be common to some of the Greater Antilles, and M. hilli is peculiar to Jamaica, while the Bahamas have a local race in M. bahamensis. The so-called mountain mocking-bird (Oreoscoptes montanus) is a form not very distant from Mimus; but it inhabits exclusively the plains overgrown with sage-brush (Artemisia) of the interior tableland of North America, and is not at all imitative in its notes, so that it is an instance of a misnomer. Of the various other genera allied to Mimus, the best known are the thrashers (genus Harporhyncus) of which six or eight species are found in North America, and the cat-bird (Galeoscoptes carolinensis), which in addition to having an attractive song, utters clucks, whistles and mewing sounds. The sooty-grey colour that, deepening into blackish-brown on the coverts, which are of a deep chestnut, excepted—renders it a conspicuous object; and though, for some reason or other, far from being a favourite, it is always willing when undisturbed to become intimate with men's abodes. It has a much wider range on the American continent than the mocking-bird, and is one of the few species that are resident in Bermuda, while on more than one occasion it is said to have appeared in Europe.

The name mocking-bird, or more frequently mock-nightingale, is occasionally given to some of the warblers (q.v.), especially the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), and the sedge-bird (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus). In India and Australia the same name is sometimes applied to other species. (A. N.)