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I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and spent much of my adult life living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Northern Mockingbirds were a common sight in both communities. I remember that our Atlanta home always seemed to have a resident mockingbird in the front yard. On warm spring and hot summer mornings it would sit on its favorite tree, a dogwood, and serenade us, sometimes for hours.
I was very pleased when we moved to Tucson to discover that Northern Mockingbirds also inhabit our desert city and surrounding environs. Indeed, these birds range throughout the southern two-thirds of the entire United States along with its East and Pacific Coasts. In southern Arizona they’ve adapted to a wide range of habitats. I’ve seen them in the local desert, in the higher elevation grasslands southeast of Tucson, and in the foothills of the Baboquivari Mountains, to Tucson’s southwest.
Northern Mockingbirds are considerably less numerous in southern Arizona than they are in the Eastern United States. Here, mockingbirds appear to be outnumbered by their cousins, Curve-billed Thrashers.
Mockingbirds and thrashers are members of a family of songbirds known as “Mimids.” Members of this family are known for their elaborate songs. Mockingbirds’ songs consist of a series of phrases, many of which are copies of songs of other birds. It’s not unusual for a mockingbird to string together a dozen or so of these imitative phrases before it repeats itself.
They are highly territorial. One will occupy a favorite tree — in southern Arizona that frequently means a mesquite tree — and defend it against interlopers of its own and other species. Recently, I was very pleased to photograph one as it laid claim to a mesquite in the desert community of Three Points, west of Tucson.
Mockingbirds and Curve-billed Thrashers are about the same size and it’s possible to confuse the two at a distance. A mockingbird’s plumage is gray and black with some white accents, as compared with the thrasher’s brown plumage. The other obvious distinguishing feature is the birds’ beaks: a mockingbird has a nearly straight beak whereas the thrasher has a beak that curves downward. Both species have very prominent eyes. The mockingbird’s eyes are orange-yellow whereas the thrasher’s are burnt orange.
Image made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens+1.4x Canon EF telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 640, f10 @ 1/1600, +1/3 stop exposure compensation.