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Nature Notebook – Bird Mimicry

If you hear the loud, piercing call of a red-tailed hawk, be sure to check twice that you aren’t being tricked by a blue jay. Blue jays, among other bird species, are great at mimicking sounds, particularly other bird sounds. Researchers think they may be making these fake hawk calls for a variety of reasons.  One way the jay may use the call to its advantage is that it may cause other birds to abandon their nests, fearing a hawk, while giving the blue jay the opportunity to steal and eat the eggs or young in the nest.

Blue jays aren’t the only good mimickers. The whole bird family of mimidae, including mockingbirds and thrushes, are known to sing long series of complex phrases, often repeating phrases and calls of other species. The Northern Mockingbird has a repertoire of 150 to 300 phases and repeats them the same way every time. This may be used for individual recognition within the species and attracting a mate.

I’ve heard the mimicry skills of a pet European starling firsthand, saying the phrases, “Hey buddy, I’m a pretty bird,” and even replicating the sounds of a cats meow.