When Paula told us she saw a mockingbird at Molino Basin, I realized as much as I’ve heard about mockingbirds and the fact that “Papa’s gonna buy you (one),” I never saw one – ever. When she added that it kept singing and singing its mockingbird song, I realized another gap in my ornithology upbringing.
“What does it sound like?” I asked.
“It just repeats the songs of other birds. Nonstop,” she replied.
I let that sink in. “That could drive their mother and father nuts to hear that all the time. But then, that’s what they do – that’s what’s expected. It’s probably a matter of great pride for mama and papa mockingbird to hear their offspring. Cacophony to me, but ‘music to their ears.’”
Later, still curious, I turned to trusted Wikipedia for a description and picture of the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). “They are best known for the habit of some species mimicking the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects and amphibians, often loudly and in rapid succession.” The males mostly sing more at night to attract mates.
And this from the Tuscaloosa News, ”In the scientific journal “Behavioral Processes,” David E. Gammon and Anna M. Corsiglia documented that mockingbirds imitated the calls of at least 12 species of frogs.”
As often happens once my information craving heightens, I need more. I then went to GoTrails to get the full deal on the birdsong of mockingbirds. For 3 minutes I listened to the extended renditions of a Northern. It didn’t seem like a call was ever repeated. I think I recognized the robin, and a catbird call, which I found out is also a mimic of birdsong.
Consider this. We’ve just stopped streamside at Molino Basin. A papa mockingbird has built the soon-to-be family nest about seven feet up in a tree, and moved in with his mate. Once they find their mates, mockingbirds are monogamous, which is surely a trust-builder. She laid 6 eggs. Their songs have been very subdued, unless the nest is threatened. Four eggs hatched. Now they’re fledglings.
At this point my scientific trivia ends. But in my mind, looking up up toward the nest, I see the four fledglings exploring around their nest. Papa is so proud of this brood.
Mama is teaching them how to articulate but she’s tired and her patience level is fairly low.
“Stop that noise. Jeez. Give us a break.”
“Now sweetie, they’re just learning to sing.”
“You call that singing! Ha.”
Papa does his “I’m going out to get some cigarettes” or whatever birds do to escape for a bit.
A few days later:
Papa has promised and delivered in taking over all the feeding. Mama is mellow:
“OK. Much better. You got 12 songs in that one. Only 188 to go (she’s a perfectionist). But then you’ll be set to go woo some sweet female mockingbird. (Carrot on the stick in birdland.)
On the 24th night:
“Bravo. No pauses or rests at all in that song. You’ve all done well.”
Next day the fledglings gather, little wings flapping, the mini cacophony is beginning.
“We’re just so proud of you. Now off you go.”
Cue the crescendo of song! Off they go.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.