Friday, October 7, 2011

The Miraculous Melodious Mockingbird

(originally posted June 16, 2011)

Last weekend, Mr. Nature Geek and I went to visit one of our favorite nature preserves. As we hiked the trails, I heard a familiar sound coming from a familiar place. It was a northern mockingbird, singing from the top of a tall dead tree. This mockingbird was one I was used to seeing; every time I visit the preserve he always seems to be there showing off his vocal talents. That day I decided to stop and pay some due respect to the serenading songster, rather than giving him my usual quick glance as I hiked by.
A Northern mockingbird in a familiar stance: singing his heart for all to hear and see

Mockingbirds got their name from their uncanny ability to copy the songs of other birds around them (as well as most any other sound they find interesting). Male mockingbirds demonstrate their superior genes and health to female mockingbirds by showing off their musical chops. This may sound somewhat familiar as we humans are also impressed by those who can do impersonations of celebrities or make unusual sounds using only their vocal cords. My mockingbird at the nature preserve quickly proved himself to possess one of the best repertoires I had ever heard—13 bird species in about 10 minutes! There was a blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, belted kingfisher, juvenile American robin (rather specific, that one!), and two species of woodpeckers amongst the mix. He also did a spot on American kestrel, which must scare the furry pants off of the voles in the adjacent meadow.

Northern mockingbirds are also are known somewhat less favorably for their untiring ability to sing all night. While in Florida, I would sometimes hear a mockingbird singing in the dark of night, long after all the other songbirds had retired. These males that can put American Idols to shame are lonely bachelors, determined to prove their worth through sheer determination. If you happen to have one of these males singing outside your window at all hours, the best advice I can give you is to invest in a good set of earplugs or set up a mockingbird dating service.

As we continued down the trail, our mockingbird's song never ceased. With talents like that, I hope that he finds a cute female mockingbird to have lots of offspring with. He may quiet down a little bit while busy caring for a nest of chicks, but then I know he'll be right back to the top of his tree, traumatizing the local vole population.

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