The mockingbird

The mockingbird is the state bird of five states—Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas—and is the former state bird of South Carolina. When I lived in Florida, I heard a story about how the mockingbird was chosen as state bird. They said that a collection of birds native to the state was gathered so citizens could judge which bird had the most beautiful song. Proponents of the nightingale were convinced at first that their bird would win, but after a week the mockingbird had become so adept at imitating the nightingale, adding its tune to its own song, that the mockingbird was declared winner of the contest.

I remember one mockingbird that lived in the same neighborhood where I lived that year. It had somehow acquired a knowledge of the (human) classics, as it included famous (human) music in its song. I remember that it sang the ten-note motif of Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony. I cannot remember the other tune it sang, but it was very familiar—perhaps the first seven notes of Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

But for all its talent, the mockingbird is still a bird-brained creature. It has no real judgment, in spite of appearances. Late last night or early this morning (I didn’t check the clock.), I heard a mockingbird going through its routine. Suddenly, in the middle of its string of beautiful calls, it included three squawks of the blue jay. Blue jays do not shout in the dark of night, nor would a blue jay fit its rancid call into a space of the mockingbird song. No, this local mockingbird had chosen to include the blue jay among its imitations, which shows how little appreciation of beauty the bird has.

I once read the following anecdote in Readers’ Digest: a state highway worker drove to a rest stop along the highway to perform needed maintenance. He parked his truck, turned off the engine, put the keys in his pocket, and left the vehicle. Suddenly he heard the sound of the truck’s back-up warning. Panicked, he turned to stop the truck; then he saw the mockingbird, perched on a tree branch above the truck, imitating the back-up alarm.

Maybe birds are not as stupid as we think they are. J.

13 thoughts on “The mockingbird

  1. Very interesting. I never really ever have ever never ever considered reading about birds, lol. I know we read mockingbird in middle school but I don’t remember much of that book or if it was even about the bird precisely but I’m really curious to listening to mockingbirds sing now due to this simple post. Thank you for writing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. you may remember my tale about the drunk mockingbird???
    We were having some work done in our bathroom, retiling our shower.
    We have a never used door from our bedroom that leads to the back deck.
    Well, the tile guy was hot and opted to open the door for some cross breeze.
    This was late September, the time the pokeweed berries are overtly ripe…so ripe that they are fermented.
    The very time mockingbirds crave the berries.
    Well, with the door open, a drunk mockingbird flew into my bedroom—whizzing about the room in a drunken panic with me chasing it back out the door.
    In its wake, I had to clean purple poop off the walls and floor.
    Birdbrains indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We have mockingbirds here in New Mexico, too. One day I was outside doing some yard work, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake. I immediately froze and carefully looked around. A neighbor had recently killed a six foot rattler in her back yard, only a few feet from where I was standing.

    Although the rattlesnake sounded very close, I could not see it. The sound stopped, but I was afraid to move. Then it started again. It sounded like it was above my head now. Oh no, was the rattlesnake in our big tree, getting ready to drop down on me? Did rattlesnakes do that?

    I looked up and there were two mockingbirds sitting close together on a branch directly above me. “Was that you making all that noise?” I said. “You scared me!”

    The birds cocked their heads and looked at each other. I half expected them to do a wing high five!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, yeah. I was born in California. My dad used to tell a story about coming home from work one day when I was a toddler and finding me in the front yard playing with a rattlesnake that was in my lap. My dad said he killed the snake and then checked me all over for bites, but I was fine. I don’t expect to be that lucky again!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understand that rattlesnakes are not as aggressive as other snakes, including the cottonmouth, aka water moccasin. I have heard a man tell of being in a boat on the river fishing when he saw a cottonmouth swimming toward his boat with great determination. He had a shotgun with him, but only one round. “It was him or me,” he said, but of course he survived to tell the story. J.


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