WILD GEORGIA: A rousing mockingbird performance in a parking lot

The mockingbird is most famous for its ability to imitate the songs and calls of other birds. A mockingbird may have more than 200 different songs in its repertoire. CONTRIBUTED BY CAPTAIN-TUCKER / CREATIVE COMMONS

Charles Seabrook’s “Wild Georgia” column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I was driving in Banks County the other day and pulled into a convenience store parking lot to check directions to a country road that I was looking for. And that’s when I heard what clearly sounded like a chuck-will’s-widow calling.

I was taken aback: A chuck-will’s-widow calling in a parking lot? And in the middle of the day? No way, I thought. And then, from the same source, I heard another familiar bird sound: the bubbly “cheer, cheer, cheer” of a Northern cardinal. Then came the “peter, peter, peter” of a tufted titmouse.

I got out of my truck to see what was going on, and looked up. And there he was: a Northern mockingbird perched on a power line, doing what his species is most famous for — imitating a slew of songs and calls from other birds.

He regaled me with rich song for another couple of minutes or so, during which he added a few other tunes that sounded like the calls of a Northern flicker, an Eastern phoebe, a white-eyed vireo and a Carolina wren. Then he flew off, but it was one of the best — if not the best — mockingbird concerts I’ve ever heard. I was impressed.

Of course, I hear the joyful songs of mockingbirds nearly every day in my Decatur neighborhood, but this individual in a parking lot seemed exceptionally talented. If there were such a thing as an “American Idol” competition among birds, he’d surely be a winner.

The late Georgia ornithologist Thomas Burleigh had perhaps an explanation of why some mockingbirds seem more adept at performing songs than others: “An occasional individual appears far more skilled in this pastime than others — probably an older bird that has developed its technique over a period of years.”

A mockingbird‘s own song, Burleigh noted, is vigorous and attractive, “but (the bird’s) fame is justifiably based on its apparent delight in imitating perfect the songs of other birds.”

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