Today on the MOU (MN Ornithologists Union) listserve, a discussion was started about birds mimicking other bird calls. The European Starling is famous for its’ ability to imitate many other birds, in fact, a Starling can be taught to talk (although, they’re really just mimicking) – just search for it in YouTube and you will find many videos out there.
The Starling is an exotic bird that was brought to the new world from Europe in the 1700s. They will imitate Peewees, Robins, Pine Siskins, House Sparrows (another exotic), Killdeer, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker among others.
Another bird that makes use of mimicking is the Blue Jay, which is a native bird. The first time that someone told me that a Blue Jay can do a perfect imitation of a Broad-winged Hawk, I was skeptical. But then that fall, when I heard the whistle of a Broad-winged Hawk, instead of seeing a Hawk, there was a Blue Jay flying by and I could see that it was the Jay that was making the noise.
So here I was sitting in my office one day with the windows open, when suddenly I heard the call of a Bald Eagle. Now if you know the call of a Bald Eagle, it is a rather weak and sounds a lot like a Seagull, not the stately call that you would think a bird of that stature would make. Anyhow, this Bald Eagle sounded really close so I looked out to see if I could see it. The only thing I saw was a Blue Jay and he was opening and closing his beak at the same time I was hearing the Eagle — it was the Blue Jay making the call!
On the listserve this day, people commented that Blue Jay make many mimicking calls and can imitate Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, along with the Broad-winged Hawk and Bald Eagle. Notice they are all raptors? I’m sure the Blue Jay has found that their mimicking abilities give them an advantage in many ways. One way they use their skill is to scare all the little birds away from a bird feeder so they can pig-out!