August 17, 2008

Mock Me All Night Long

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells his children that they can have all sorts of fun with their new pellet guns (it was a different time, huh?), but they can’t shoot something beautiful and simple like a mockingbird. In fact, it’s the one thing Scout can ever remember her father calling sinful.

And, the mockingbird is beautiful and innocent…until it decides to sit outside your apartment window every night at 1 a.m. and sing to its ADHD heart’s content. Then, even the most loyal of bird lovers (that would be me) might wish for Scout’s pellet gun.

Of course, I did not shoot that little mockingbird outside my apartment window—that would be a sin (and illegal). And now, with a couple years of more restful sleep between me and the guilty bird, I am ready to tell you about how awesome it really is.

Your BOTW is the Northern mockingbird.

Fact: The Northern mockingbird is a medium-sized songbird with a long tail and legs. It is a pretty, pale gray above and white below. It has two white wingbars set against darker gray wings. And big, bright white patches can be seen while it is in flight.
Fact: The Northern mockingbird is best known for its talent of mimicry. A male’s song is long and complex, incorporating the songs of several other birds and sometimes the sounds of barking dogs, meowing cats, or machinery.
Fact: As I discovered in Victorville, the Northern mockingbird often sings well into the night, especially around a full moon.
Fact: It is believed that most of these nighttime singers are unmated males. I like to think of them as adolescent boys who will try any come-on to impress the girl.
Fact: The Northern mockingbird often combines its elaborate songs with wing flashing displays, jumping a short distance into the air and showing off its bright white patches. You’ll see the bird do just that right at the beginning of this video.

The Northern mockingbird is also known for harassing cats and dogs. Scientists debate whether it’s a form of play or actual nest defense. Whatever it is, I can’t believe how many videos there were on YouTube of mockingbirds teasing cats. This cat seems way to calm, by the way.

Fact: Song obviously plays an important role in the life of the Northern mockingbird. Not only does the bird establish territory and pair up through song, males actually sing before, during, and after copulation. (Females are a bit more genteel about the whole act, but they do quiver their wings afterward.)
Fact: The Northern mockingbird is also known for its “boundary dance,” where two males square off along some unseen territory boundary and basically try to “dance” each other away. I've never seen this before, but I like to imagine it’s a lot like the movie You Got Served.
Fact: The Northern mockingbird isn’t the only mimic from the bird world. In fact, its skills seem pretty amateurish when you watch this video of the lyre bird from Australia. (Sorry, embedding isn’t available for this BBC video.) It’s worth watching until the end; you won’t believe some of the sounds it can make.

This has been Your BOTW.


Kelly Branan said...

That was my favorite book in Jr High and I still love the movie. My great-great-great-great grandmother was known for singing a song called the mockingbird. Maybe I'll try to find a copy online and link over to it.

Tim said...

Nice multimedia. That cat's probably been fighting that bird all summer. I think he's at a point between not caring and turning the deck into a bloody battleground.

Mockingbirds will always make me think of Victorville.

Patrick said...

Seriously, that nasty little bird is asking for it, I hope that cat beats the sh!t out of him! I hope his little mating dance is still effective when his little white splotches are covered in blood! Kitty POWER!

KathyD said...

Jon has a pellet gun. We use it to shoot magpies.

Rachel said...

I'm impressed you knew what bird it was that was warbling outside your window. I would have told people later, "There was this ugly brown parakeet outside my window." All birds are either parakeets or robins to me...

Um, am I still allowed to read about the birds of the day? I've come to love them.

Amy H. (bird geek) said...

Of course you can still read Your Bird of the Week, Rachel.

As for knowing the song of the mockingbird, it's the only one that sounds like it can't make up its mind what to sing. (It's also one of the few birds to sing regularly at night.)

So, now you can make an identification of the mockingbird to your friends one night. Won't you feel cool?

Jill said...

I didn't know that birds could be so interesting. I am learning a lot!

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