Photos and article by Charly Mann
The world's greatest impressionist, the Northern Mockingbird, singing the song of another bird species
In the Human world comedy impressionists like Rich Little, Fred Travalena, and Frank Gorshin made millions of dollars imitating the voice of celebrities and politicians. But the real master impressionist is the Northern Mockingbird who can so perfectly imitate the songs of more than 50 species of birds that neither an experienced bird watcher or electronic analysis can distinguish the real bird's song from the Mockingbirds' mimicry. Not only that but Northern Mockingbirds can also perfectly recreate a human's whistle, a police siren, dog barking, and the sounds of a piano.
Northern Mockingbird on the top of juniper in northeast Oklahoma
Northern Mockingbirds are about 10 inches in length and weigh only 2 ounces. It has a slender build with long legs and is primarily gray. They have a white chest and belly. It has distinctive white stripes on its wings. The outer edge of their long tail is white. Males and females look almost identical.
Male Northern Mockingbird doing his impression of the song of a Blue Bunting
The Northern Mockingbird can be found throughout all the lower 48 states and is sometimes called the American Nightingale, which I think is a more accurate name for this remarkable bird.
The Northern Mockingbird's diet is made up of insects, berries, and seeds.
Northern mockingbirds can typically live up to 8 years. Some have lived more than twice than long.
This Mockingbird was sitting on a pine tree along the ScenicTalimena Highway in the mountains of southeast Oklahoma
Mockingbirds are usually found alone or in a pair. They typically inhabit open country with thickets and farmland. I usually see a couple of Northern Mockingbirds while on my morning walk, running across an open meadow as they hunt for insects. If I get too close they will fly up to the top of a nearby tree and then survey the ground below for another spot to forage from.
This is a baby Northern Mockingbird that performed the songs of at least a dozen different birds as I stood close by for at least forty minutes
Male Mockingbirds are the singers in the Spring during mating season, and often serenade from their large repertoire for more than eight hours. On a moonlit night they often sing their songs until almost dawn. Female Mockingbirds do not join the mockingbird choir until the Fall. Mockingbirds learn new songs each year. The older the mockingbird, the more birds and sounds they can imitate.
Besides all the birds it mimics, the Northern Mockingbird also has its own unique song.
Article and pictures by Kathryn Mann
A couple of times a year I see a Belted Kingfisher perched on a tree near a small pond. They are about 13 inches in length and have a long wingspan of nearly two feet.
Belted Kingfisher sitting by a small pond just inside of Bartlesville city limits
Belted Kingfishers have large head with a beautiful bushy crest and a large thick bill. The male is bluish gray on top with white below. They have gray stripe across their breast and a white collar. Females are similar to the male but also have a dark orange band on their belly.
Female Belted Kingfisher near Oologah Lake
Belted Kingfishers typically live for seven years. Those who live in Oklahoma primarily eat small fish and insects, whereas those that live near the ocean eat oysters and squid, as well as fish.
Belted Kingfishers sometimes hover over water looking for a fish, and then dive head first when they spot a victim.
These birds uses their strong feet and bill to dig their nests into burrows near water.
Belted Kingfisher flying over Wynona, Oklahoma
Belted Kingfishers are a favorite prey of Oklahoma's Red-Tailed Hawks. They often avoid being captured by diving into water.
Belted Kingfishers are usually solitary except during nesting and mating season. They are monogamous.
Article and photographs by Charly Mann
Barn Swallows can be found throughout rural Oklahoma's agricultural area especially near small bridges that are close to where cows or buffalo graze. They are often seen flying in groups of 12 or more in a frenetic zigzagging pattern that is low to the ground. What looks a bit like avian madness is actually their methodology for pursuing insects which they capture and consume in flight.
Barn Swallow perched on a fence outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Barn Swallows are a rich blue on top. They have a deep orange throat and forehead. The rest of their head down to their eyes is deep blue. They are white underneath. Females have a slightly duller coloration than males. Barn Swallows are long and slender. While their shape resembles several other species of swallows, their distinguishing feature is their long deeply forked tail.
A front view of a Barn Swallow near Hulah Lake
These birds live in small communities and built their nests next to one another under bridges or the eaves of barns. Their nests are made of primarily mud and straw.
Barn Swallows are about six inches in length. They typically live four to six years, though a few have lived more than 12.
Note the forked tail of this Barn Swallow (taken at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve)
Barn Swallows migrate to South America in the Winter; many making it as far south as Argentina. They migrate as far as 600 miles a day, which is all done during daylight hours.
Newborn Barn Swallow
The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world.
Article and photos by Kathryn Mann
Common Grackle near Oologah, Oklahoma
In Oklahoma Common Grackles are the common songbird that cannot sing. It is said that they have a song that sounds like a squeaky barn door hinge, and that a flock of Grackles singing can sound like a thousand wheel barrows going by.
A Grackle sitting on his favorite fence near Commerce, Oklahoma
Grackles are exceptionally intelligent animals. For example they often steal dry dog food out of bowls and fly to a nearby puddle or pond and continue to dip the pellet in the water until they determine it is soft enough to eat. The following video should convince you that Common Grackles are geniuses.
Amazing Problem-Solving by a Grackle
Another Smart Grackle
Common Grackles are perhaps the most self-confident bird. They always walk about with their head erect, their shoulders back, and their chest out, with an intimidating gaze from their penetrating yellow eyes. Whenever other birds are around eating and a Grackle lands it is this cocky attitude that causes the other birds to fly off.
Common Grackles can frighten other birds with their intimidating look
Many people mistake Common Grackles for European Starlings which are non-native birds. Grackles are native to the United States, and have actually experienced a 61% population decline over the last several decades.
Common Grackles are stunningly beautiful. While their plumage is actually black, their feathers give them a bluish black iridescent color. The male is about 13 inches in length, while females are closer to 11 inches. They have yellow eyes, a long black bill, and a long keel-shaped tail.
This Common Grackle is visiting in my back yard
The Common Grackle is more common in rural areas of Oklahoma near farm land, though it is not unusual to see them in cities and towns. Like humans, they love ripe corn and take it off the stalk or more often from feedlots where it is meant for livestock. They also eat insects, crustaceans, earthworms, frogs, and berries.
This Grackle lives near Bull Hollow, Oklahoma
While in Oklahoma in the spring and summer Common Grackles breed and nest in small groups, yet it is more typical to see one solitary Grackle at a time. In the fall and winter they travel to warm urban areas like Austin and Houston, Texas where they gather in huge numbers and thousands often take over several adjoining trees. In Austin, where I grew up, the downtown Central Market grocery store plays recordings of predatory bird screeches to try to drive off the Grackles.
article and photos by Charly Mann
About three years ago I saw my first Gray Catbird hopping around amid some dense shrubs near my home. I fell in love with the bird immediately and was overjoyed when I discovered it was called a catbird. This is because their call resembles the mewing of a cat. Since that day the Universe has been very kind to me, and I now usually see several Catbirds almost every day during the Spring and Summer. Gray Catbirds spend their winters along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
This Gray Catbird is a regular visitor to my backyard and perches in a tree near where I often sit
Gray catbirds have a black crown and tail and a distinctive dark grey plumage. Adults measure about 9 inches in length. Their tail is long and erect like a wren and its under tail is rust colored. They have black eyes and legs.
Some Gray Catbirds have lived more than 17 years.
This Grey Catbird is singing his song which can last as long as ten minutes
The Gray Catbird has another correct spelling: Grey Catbird.
The Gray Catbird usually build its nest no more than four feet from the ground in small trees or dense shrubs. The Catbird will attack predators including humans that threaten their nests.
Turquoise eggs of Gray Catbird from nest in my backyard
Gray catbirds are monogamous.
Gray Catbird in his catbird seat
Gray Catbirds are rather fearless and you can usually get closer to them than most birds.
The expression "being in the catbird seat"means you have a great advantage in a situation. Many times when I see a Gray Catbird sitting in a nearby branch I think what an enviable position he is in.
article and photos by Kathryn Mann
It is said that the bluebird can bring us both happiness and miracles. The fact that bluebirds can fly beyond the rainbow is what inspires Dorothy dream of the land of Oz.
Eastern Bluebird at Lake Hudson in Washington County, Oklahoma
Over the last 25 years the Eastern Bluebird has become more and more rare as European Starlings and House Sparrows have taken over their traditional nesting grounds. Today one usually has to go out to a rural area to find a bluebird as they are restricted to building their nests in orchards or on the edges of woodlands.
Eastern Bluebird on the top of Circle Mountain overlooking Bartlesville
The Eastern Bluebird is about 7 inches long. Males are bright blue on their tail and wings. They have a white belly, and a rust colored breast and throat. Females share the same features, but with more dull coloring.
Male Eastern Bluebird in northeast Oklahoma
Eastern Bluebirds are monogamous. The male sings with its wing half open and its tail spread when it courts a female. It also often brings gifts of food as part of this ritual.
Eastern Bluebird near entrance to Pathfinder trail in Bartlesville
There is a small orchard near my house where I regularly find a solitary male Eastern Bluebird perched on a fence post or in a nearby tree.
Eastern Bluebird at secluded spot overlooking Lake Copan