When Mockingbirds Attack

A study led by Doug Levey at the University of Florida in Gainesvile revealed that mockingbirds can recognize and remember individual humans after seeing them only a few times, and will attack humans they deem threatening.

In this test on the university campus, the mockingbirds ignored most passers-by, but took to the air when they recognised people who had approached their nest days before.

(Image: Lou Guilette/PNAS)

The study was prompted by a series of bird attacks. A graduate student involved in research on bird nesting noticed that when she would make repeat visits to peoples’ yards the birds would alarm and attack her, while they would ignore people gardening or doing other things nearby…. Indeed, it seemed they could even recognize her car, and she had to start parking around the corner [AP]. So the researchers designed an experiment to investigate whether the birds really could identify an individual person.

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers identified 24 mockingbirds watching over egg-filled nests on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. For each nest, they had one volunteer approach and touch the eggs over the course of four days, but on each day the volunteer approached at a different time, came from a different direction, and wore different clothes. Still, with every visit, the bird grew more agitated. At first, the mother bird waited until the person came close and then flew to a nearby bush to shout out alarms calls, a behavior called flushing that birds do to distract predators in the wild. But by day four, mom was up and out of her nest when the volunteer was almost 14 meters away–and she or her mate dive-bombed the volunteer’s head [ScienceNOW Daily News]. When a new volunteer approached the nest on the fifth day and touched the eggs, the mother bird started the get-to-know-you process from scratch, and merely called alarms from a nearby bush.

Link - via arbroath

From the Upcoming ueue, submitted by Marilyn Terrell.

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I was also wondering what exactly they recognize about a person, because there's one outside my workplace that has targeted me for some reason. I am toying with the idea of wearing a hat when I leave work :-)
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I saw a single mockingbird chase off a hawk the other day. The other day two mockingbirds were mauling a crow together. I love to watch them, but would hate to be a victim of their wrath.
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They're smart and socially organized. I've seen a bunch of them gang up and kill a crow 3-4 times their size. Luckily after a couple of years I've trained them not to come/nest closer then a few hundred feet of the forest line to my property - any closer and you hear their annoying cawing. How were they trained you ask - with a scoped .22 of course.
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Seriously planettom, that book is ridiculous when it says "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mocking bird." All the most annoying birds that wake me up at 6 in the morning, or dive bomb people, seem to be the mockingbirds. Really interesting that they can recognize people. I wonder how closely they can distinguish--were the volunteers the same build/hair color?
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"Now Scout, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." said Atticus.
Suddenly, there was a flash of gray and something struck the back of Atticus's head, causing his hat to fly off.
"Son of a - !"
"Jim, get my gun." Atticus said grimly, retrieving his hat from the ground and dusting it off before placing it back on his head. "It's time to start sinning!"
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