Tuesday, March 30, 2010


On Sunday, a beautiful sunny spring day, I set out to walk to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, a mere two miles from my house. A block from home I saw a bird at the top of a spruce and whipped out my binoculars to see what it was. I was thrilled to see what I thought was a Bullock's oriole and stopped to do a quick sketch so that I could confirm the identification when I returned home. While sketching I heard a bird making an unfamiliar call over and over. And over. At first I thought it might be the oriole but soon followed the sound across the street. The bird looked very much like a northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), a very common bird in my area. The thing is, mockingbirds sing other birds' songs, usually belted out in ever-changing medleys, delivered in a style that rivals that of Ethel Merman. Singing one call over and over isn't anything I've noticed one doing before. I sketched it, just in case I was wrong, and as I finished drawing, the mockingbird began to sound like a mockingbird. You can see in the sketch that both birds were quite puffed up. It was cold and the sun was just beginning to warm things up. Mockingbirds eat insects, which were probably waiting for some warmth before starting to buzz about, so I think it was as if that mocking bird just hadn't had that first cup of coffee yet.

Oh, when I got home later and looked up Bullock's oriole (Icterus bullockii), I was surprised to find that I'd most likely seen a Hooded oriole (Icterus cucullatus) instead. Both occur in my area but the Bullock's is more common and that's what I was expecting to see. I was pleased that my drawing helped me sort out the difference!


  1. Wonderful post Debbie, just love the Mockingbird story! It's amazing when birds act a bit out of character how they can confuse us!

  2. It is a wonderful feeling when an on the spot sketch nailed down the identification of a bird. I wish I could have seen the hooded oriole with you.


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