Mockingbird Serenade

Over the past five to ten years, the population of mockingbirds in the area around Redquarters has been increasing slowly but steadily. This is delightful to those who appreciate the clever mimics, and less fun if you are a domestic cat or someone who needs to get to a door or vehicle in too-close proximity to a nest. A decade or so ago, an especially ferocious mockingbird managed to force the locking of a door on a university building for several months, and passers-by were warned with signs to stay well clear of that side of the building. (The next year, Mississippi kites began dive-bombing people who walked too close to some trees on a different part of campus. There were dark mutters in the archive about demanding hard hats as an employment benefit.)

Mockingbirds are best known as mimics. The name comes because they seem to tease other birds by copying their calls. I was walking one morning four or five years ago and heard a cardinal. Then a robin, then a grackle, then a sparrow, a goldfinch, a wren, a hawk, and a meadowlark. All coming from the same place on the telephone wire. Apparently that particular mockingbird commuted into town, to have picked up the mockingbird. Later that summer it added bobwhite quail to its song rotation, causing a lot of confusion among people passing by. Quail are not normally found on the top of telephone poles in urban areas. Northern mockingbirds come by their Latin name, Mimus polyglottos, honestly.

On Monday, I was out walking and moaning to myself about morning getting earlier and earlier and life was not fair and I wanted the gym to reopen so I could walk and work out at a non-early hour. A young mockingbird serenaded the world, then began “dancing” atop the telephone pole. He fluttered up and down, singing up a storm, and informing all the world that he was strong, handsome, and lord of all he surveyed. And looking for a hot date.

I’ve had a soft spot for the little beasts ever since one learned to mimic a car alarm. It kept people racing around, trying to see if it was their car going off. I am convinced the grey bugger did it just to cause mischief.

And then there’s the bluegrass tune, Listen to the Mockingbird.

Which does have lyrics: 

I like the fiddle version better, at least today.


11 thoughts on “Mockingbird Serenade

  1. First thought: I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a mockingbird sing.
    Second thought: That’s kind of the point.

  2. Wait until an urban bird mimics the backup beeping for a heavy truck.

  3. The mockingbirds aren’t bad. It’s the ridicule-birds that deserve killing. 😈

  4. I’ve heard car alarms, backing-up trucks, and some kid’s electronic noise pistol from mockingbirds. But the one that really makes me giggle is the one that does… half of an osprey call.

    Whole osprey call, rising: “Kuh kuh kuh… kchewwww!”

    Mockingbird: “Kuh kuh kuh…”

    And then you’re waiting for the rest of it, and nothing.

    “Augh, it’s the mockingbird again….”

  5. When I was stationed in Northern Japan, there were cuckoos among the native bird population; we found it extremely bizarre that they sounded just like … cuckoo clocks! only they would call fourteen or fifteen times. Sounded just like a cuckoo clock…

  6. The. BBC’s Life of Birds has a Superb Lyrebird that imitates car alarms, SLR cameras, motorized and not, chainsaws, etc. . . . They must be related to mockingbirds.

  7. Wait a minute … isn’t there a reason the mockingbird only got half the osprey call? And how did it survive to repeat only half?

    • The mockers that I’ve heard tend to use short musical phrases, half a dozen notes at most. Performing for an audience with a short attention span, I guess. Maybe an osprey call is long enough that the mocker didn’t want to use the whole thing.

  8. I recall the day I was walking at a nearby lake and heard a killdeer. It was early spring and a killdeer call is a welcome sign of returning spring migrants. So I looked for the killdeer along the lakeshore, where a killdeer should be. No killdeer. Then it called again from behind me … and several feet up in a tree. Killdeer do NOT perch in trees. Yup, it was a mockingbird.

    A good friend of mine who lives down south used to leave her kitchen window open … then one day she heard the microwave beeping when she hadn’t been using it. Mocker in the bush right outside the window.

    I recall reading somewhere that ornithologists think that the more versatile a male mocker’s songs are, the more likely it is to get a mate. Whatever the reason, they are a whole lot of fun to listen to.

Comments are closed.