Friday, March 24, 2017

Song(s) of The Mockingbird

"Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing except make music for us to enjoy."

-- From "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee.

***

On our walks this first week in Spring along a variety of pathways, Ellie the Incredible Walking Dawg and I have determined that there soon will be a whole bunch of baby mockingbirds nesting in our neighborhoods and up and down The Grand Strand. We reached that conclusion after being mo mockingbird-serenated all along our leafy routes, under every tree, beside every shrub.

Mockingbirds sing a lot all year long, and even sometimes at night. But they sing incessantly during breeding season, which this must be with all the friskiness around. We also experienced a little of their fussing sounds, along with some dive-bombing -- an indication that there are already nests for birthing, perhaps some already with little beaks to feed.

The Northern Mockingbird really is a phenom among God's creations. Let the real experts, the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornothology, tell their story:

"Both male and female mockingbirds sing. They often mimic the sounds of birds (and frogs) around them, including shrikes, blackbirds, orioles, killdeer, jays, hawks, and many others. They go on learning new sounds throughout their lives. The song is a long series of phrases, with each phrase repeated 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound; the songs can go on for 20 seconds or more. Many of the phrases are whistled, but mockingbirds also make sharp rasps, scolds, and trills. . . ."

My South Carolina bird guide states that the mockingbird repertoire consists of more than 400 distinctive song types. Wow!

You have to wonder what cognitive process goes into determining exactly what tune this amazing bird is belting out at any given time, or what other bird or critter it is imitating. Or is there just some automatic trigger. Who knows? Lots of mystery: I know that I rarely see a mockingbird on our feeder, even though there are plenty of them in the neighborhood. Maybe their palates require higher class grub than sunflower seed, corn, and such.

Mockingbirds are a delight. I certainly would never kill one, though Ellie Mae might if she got the chance.

                                              © Robert Gray Holland  2017


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