Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Following the Hatching of the Florida State Bird

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory Westberry | Male or female mockingbird.

All three, no matter when they were laid or hatched, seem to be on the same growth path.

You may have read my previous Rumination column earlier in June when I wrote about our state bird after a short quiz to see if you knew what the state bird was. The choices were: 

  1. Eagle 
  2. Osprey 
  3. Pelican 
  4. Mockingbird 
  5. Dove  

Psychically, I believe not many of our readers knew it was the mockingbirdnorthern mockingbird to be exactwas probably the least likely choice, especially for Florida. On April 23rd, 1927, under Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 3, the mockingbird was put into place as the Florida state bird. 

Included in the column were photos of an unusual nest created in the basket of my bicycle, provided a choice location with shelter from the frog-strangling summer rains. Thereafter was a progression of photos from the bare nest to the sequential appearance of jewel-like speckled eggs of teal and bronze. Like the mother mockingbird, I took great pride in each accomplishment. 

Patiently, I waited and peeked in the nest when mama wasn’t on the nest and voila, the first egg transformed into an end-of-pinky sized pulsating baby bird with a spectacular heartbeat. Translucent skin, which seemed as delicate as a spider web appears, cradled the miraculous miniature lungs and other organs, which immediately performed their survival tasks. 

As the heat and humidity bore down, additional babies were born until there were three, one didn’t hatch. The number of eggs in a mockingbird nest can range from 2 – 6. Their eyes were covered with transparent skin and they could only sense when mama was back with food and their heads raised jerkily to secure it. 

The northern mockingbird can sing between 50 to 200 sounds, depending on which birding source you access. Some sounds are “mocked” or copied from other birds’ songs and some can be repetitive choruses perhaps from other birds’ songs to entertain their not as vocally talented flying friends. They also copy the sounds of insects, amphibians and other unusual noises like a dog barking or a creaky gate. They are spry birds and move, rather dart, quickly with tail that pumps up and down before they are off to forage,

This mother mockingbird used the bike’s handlebars and seat as a place to reconnoiter her surroundings before leaving her babies. Each time she left, I gave thanks for the lack of feral cats and roaming house cats in the neighborhood. Telling the male and female mockingbird apart is for the professional birder, not me. I assumed that it was the same bird, but I later found out the female and male work together. What a concept! In fact, even before one nestling group is finished, the female can be starting another nest in a different place while the male finishes feeding and fledging the nestlings. The male and female usually form long-term bonds. 

After two weeks, the babies have arrived.

The mockingbirds are territorial and will drive other birds away and even dive low over a cat or dog if one nears their nest. They love the expanse of a field to gather food from and generally choose insects including beetles, ants, grasshoppers and spiders, but will also eat berries and seeds. 

On almost an hourly basis, the chicks changed. They grew dark grey, peach fuzz, their beaks turned an astonishing bright yellow and tiny pin feathers began to show on their wings. Their gaping mouths opened at a vibration or sense of movement nearby and opened wide as you can see. 

Regretfully, I didn’t see them mature past these final photos because my vacation intervened. They’ll have a more peaceful adolescence without me stealthily taking their photos. I yearned to see them practice flight and fledge, but this “adopted mama” will hope for another nest later this summer or next spring. 




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