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Mockingbirds Defend Winter Territory

Dear Bird Folks,

There is a weird mockingbird that lives in a bush across the road from my house. It sits in the same bush all day long, staring at my house. It has been out there for over a month and it’s starting to creep me out. What’s up with this mockingbird?

– Greg, Brewster


Uh-oh, Greg,

You could have one of those spy mockingbirds that has been in the news lately. It is a mockingbird by day, a Russian spy at night. Mockingbirds make great spies because they speak so many languages. I’d be careful what you say if I were you. The next time you walk past this bush, you should sniff the air for the smell of borscht or check the ground for empty vodka bottles. Those are two sure signs that the bird is a Russian spy.

If it’s not a spy, then perhaps the mockingbird has merely set up its winter territory in your neighborhood. Most birds set up territories in the spring and have moved away from them by August. But mockingbirds are one of the few birds that have two territories, a breeding territory and a non-breeding territory. In the spring, like most birds, mockers defend their nesting area. Dogs, cats, big birds and even the kid who mows the lawn are in danger of getting whacked if they come too close to an active mockingbird nest.

In the fall, however, when most birds hang out in flocks of similar species, mockingbirds have staked out a new territory. This time they aren’t defending a nest, but a food supply. That is what your bird has done, Greg. And it is not staring at your house – it is on guard duty, looking for any bird that might want to steal some of its food. In the winter mockingbirds eat mostly berries, so I’m sure that bushes across the road from your house are full of some kind of winter berries. If a robin, starling or blue jay wants to chow down some of those berries, it is going to have to deal with Mr. Mockingbird first. Even though jays and robins are a bit bigger then a mockingbird, the mocker is tough and has the temperament of a clerk at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, so intruders quickly learn to find food somewhere else.

Mockingbird sexes both look alike so it is hard to tell if your bird is male or female. Sometimes a bonded pair will defend the food supply, but often even the bird’s mate is chased away from the food. In the winter, a hungry mockingbird won’t even share food with its mate. It’s kind of like being married to Rosanne Barr. Soon spring will arrive and the mockers will leave their wintering grounds and form breeding territories (which usually aren’t very far from their winter hangout). After that, Greg, you will be able to go out and work in your yard without having to worry about being spied on by an undercover mockingbird. And all of you secrets will be safe and out of the hands of the Russians. If you want to keep the mockingbirds coming around, plant shrubs and bushes that produce fruit and berries. I just wouldn’t plant any trees like Russian olives. Good luck with your mockingbird and thanks for the question…comrade.