Mimics are birds that imitate the songs of other birds and do not have a distinct song. While the Northern Mockingbird is obviously the most famous, the Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird are two fairly common mimics that are usually overlooked by non-birders. Perhaps the Northern Mockingbird got its fame because its song sounds sweeter, or maybe it came from the famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Of course they are very easy to tell apart by sight, but when you only hear them, these tips will help. Many new birders might find it easy to identify the songs of common backyard birds like cardinals and chickadees, leaving out the mimics as they are considered confusing and mysterious. These birds may not have a distinct song, but if you actually learn how to tell them apart, it actually might seem easier to learn than the songs of other birds.
There are slight variations between the way a Brown Thrasher and a Northern Mockingbird actually sound, but the real way to tell them apart is by the number of variations of each collection of notes. Northern Mockingbirds typically sing each of their mini songs four or more times, Brown Thrashers sing theirs two to three times, and Gray Catbirds sing their from one to two times. The Gray Catbird also sings more nasal, whistle, squeak, whine, and gurgle sounds. This bird gets its name from its cat-sounding “Mew” call that I often hear much more than its slur of imitated songs. If you listen to these birds songs, you will (hopefully) see what I mean.
Blue Jays and European Starlings are not considered mimids, but they can still mimic some bird songs. Both birds are often heard mimicking Red-shouldered Hawk. The way to tell the difference between them and the real thing is that an actual Red-shouldered Hawk sings its calls over and over rapidly, but Blue Jays and European Starlings sing them softer, slower, with slight variation of pitch and tone, and only repeat it a few times.