Besides being known for their vocal repertoire, Northern Mockingbirds are famous for pugnacious defense of their territory, nest, and young. Even more than most songbirds, Northern Mockingbirds aggressively stand guard over their nestlings as well as their young fledglings. Potential predators risk being mobbed and chased by nesting mockingbirds. While the female incubates, the male spends most of his time perched high on trees or rooftops, acting as a sentinel, and will chase away any animal (including humans) that approaches the nest. Northern Mockingbirds have also been known to join forces with other birds, including cardinals, thrashers and doves, to chase away potential nest predators.
There are many birds, such as waxwings, that have a frugivorous (strictly fruit-eating) diet. The only time they usually expand their diet to include insects is during the breeding season, when growing hatchlings require high amounts of protein for proper development. Others, such as orioles, show a marked preference for fruit but also eat significant quantities of other foods. All of these birds play an important role by spreading fruit seeds to distant areas either by caching food or distributing the seeds through their droppings.
Bird lovers often put out seed to lure birds in for a closer look (a practice discouraged during the summer in black bear country), but there is an equally effective magnet for some species, and that is fruit. (Due to the high sugar content, little nutrition and potential bacteria growth in jelly, it may be best to provide fruit over jelly.) Grapes often attract Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, House Finches and American Robins. Raisins and currants (soaked in water overnight) appeal to Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Towhees. Species that find orange halves hard to resist include Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Gray Catbirds and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. (Photo: Gray Catbird (left), female Red-bellied Woodpecker (middle) and female Baltimore Oriole (right) enjoying breakfast at The House On The Hill Bed & Breakfast, Greenfield, MA.)
Several winters ago I discovered a Northern Mockingbird nest in downtown White River Junction, Vermont. Like all birds, mockingbirds are opportunists and utilize whatever material is available when building their nests. Even though it is not a booming metropolis (population roughly 2,500), White River’s relatively dense population is reflected in the building material that these songbirds used. Because they often nest in urban and suburban areas where trash tends to be more concentrated, mockingbirds often line their nests with bits of plastic, aluminum foil, and shredded cigarette filters (see photo). The male constructs the twig foundation while the female makes most of the lining. He often begins building several nests before the female chooses one to finish and lay eggs in.
At this time of year it’s not unusual to find the scat of various mammals consisting mostly of apple. Red Foxes, White-tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbits, Porcupines and Black Bears, in particular, are all avid consumers of this appetizing fruit. Birds, including Purple Finches, Cedar Waxwings and Northern Mockingbirds, also include apples in their diets . While many insects drink the juice of apples, it’s not that often you see an insect like this Woolly Bear caterpillar (the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth) consuming a sizable chunk of a McIntosh apple and leaving behind tell-tale scat. (Discovery by Sadie Richards)