Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adventures in Recursive Mimicry

Since moving to Florida, I've become enthralled by the wonder that is the White-eyed Vireo. Its bouncy little song -- "Pick up the beer, CHICK!" -- was one of the first new bird songs I learned here, and its gaudy yellow spectacles one of the first field marks.

Last week, I learned something even cooler about this song: not all White-eyed Vireos have the same one. The first and last notes are often imitations of other bird calls. On a birding field trip last weekend, our leader pointed out opening notes of White-eyed Vireo songs that were striking imitations of Summer Tanager call notes, and final notes that sounded like warbler chips. And despite the nearly endless variation in possible sounds to mimic, all these vireos produce that distinct, loud, and bouncy melody. Wow.

I thought about this again this morning when I returned home from a run, and heard something that sounded like the water-droplet call note of a Summer Tanager -- followed by that bouncy little melody. "White-eyed Vireo doing a Summer Tanager mash-up," I thought, feeling quite smart.

I stopped and listened. The bird did it again. And again. Then he switched to a completely different sequence of repeated trills and warbles.

It wasn't a White-eyed Vireo. Or a Summer Tanager. It was a Northern Mockingbird imitating a White-eyed Vireo imitating a Summer Tanager.

How crazy is that??


Wendy said...

That is awesome! Gotta love birds. I have a European Starling that loves to imitate the first few notes of a killdeer. Weird.

Jen said...

Wow! I am more amazed that you were able to recognized what it was!

dAwN said...

Hee hee...I do like that Pick up the beer..chick,Will remember that the next time i see..or hear the White eyed vireo!

Felicia said...

Wendy--Yes, birds are endlessly surprising; that's why I love them!

Jen--I was kind of cheating, since someone had pointed out those sounds the day before and for some reason, it made quite an impression!

Dawn--"Pick up the beer, chick!" was the first east coast bird "lyric" I learned out here--it's hard to forget!