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Q and A: We have mockingbirds keeping us up at night, what can we do?

from L.S., North Fort Myers

Various birds call and sing at night. The northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, common grackle, blue jay, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, limkin, chuck-wills- widow, owl, and American crow are the species most accused of causing problems by calling and singing at night and very early in the morning. Most of these species are located in urban, suburban, and rural areas, so all of us are at risk of being awakened from a deep sleep. It is important to understand the differences between bird sounds to effectively solve this dilemma.

Birds make two different kinds of sounds, calls and songs. Birdcalls are brief sounds without a pattern. Calls are generally concerned with coordinating behaviors such as flocking, feeding, and reactions to predators. Songs are a longer series of notes in a pattern. Each species has its own unique song that usually functions to announce territories and attract mates. There are many individual variations of each species’ song. Mockingbirds, crows, and blue jays can mimic other species’ calls and songs. Sound is important for birds. For example, studies have found that deaf birds are poor parents because they cannot hear their offspring call for food. The biggest problem with loud birdcalls and songs at night and early in the morning is they sometimes wake and/or annoy people. Therefore, we must understand why birds call or sing at night.

Birds usually call at night for three reasons. Most of the time birds call as a reaction to a disturbance. The disturbance could be the wind, a squirrel nearing a nest, rainfall, or even a car driving down the road. The second reason birds call at night is because of a predator. If an owl or cat is nearby, birds will warn each other for protection. If your neighborhood has pets that are allowed to roam freely or many feral cats you may have more of a problem with birdcalls. Finally, some species typically call only at night. Examples of these nighttime callers are the limpkin and the chuck-wills- widow. Birds usually do not sing at night. If they do it is usually because they have been tricked. Street and security lights make birds think it is dawn and time to announce their territory. This is typical bird behavior, so if you have a well-lit street you may have trouble alleviating the bird singing problem.

There really aren’t any great solutions to deter birds from calling or singing at night. Controlling domestic pet populations may help. In the evening, when birds are going to their nighttime roosts, create enough of a disturbance to discourage the bird from using that site. Do not harass the birds, it is illegal to harass nesting birds. Try closing windows and turning on the air conditioner and/or radio to drown out bird sounds. If this is not a good option for you, try purchasing some soft foam earplugs. Contrary to popular belief, owl statues do not scare away all types of birds. You may purchase one of these statues and still have the nuisance birds. If these techniques do not work, please do not take matters into your own hands. Permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission are required to use lethal control methods or to destroy nests. Please contact one of these agencies for assistance if your problem persists.