mockingbird

mockingbirds live here

A mockingbird couple has taken up residence in this tree (see arrow), which is something like 80-100 meters from my deck. That’s the perfect distance, because I can clearly hear the amazing natural musical performance, but it isn’t loud enough to keep me awake during the bird’s most prolific late night hours.

They really are amazing. Have you listened deeply to a mockingbird? The sheer variety and creativity are astounding, and the singer’s performance is not limited to just the song.

credit: Flikr user pheanix (thanks!)The male flies to the top of a nearby tall thing like a tree or a TV antenna (they seem to like those) and perches. He begins singing quite loudly, and while he sings he periodically leaps into the air, hovers for a fraction of a second, and then lights again. His leaps are several meters high. He might leap every five to ten seconds, the whole time he is singing.

One might be tempted to conclude that he is leaping for joy.

While he leaps and lights, he sings little snips of music called songlets. Each one lasts from under a second to maybe two seconds. One night, listening as carefully as I could, I was able to identify around 45 distinct songlets before I gave up. There might be hundreds in any single bird’s reportoire.

Some songlets are very simple. The simplest one of all is a single peep, repeated twice or three times.

Others are more complicated, like a warbly rising trill followed by three separate notes in a descending minor third. Got that?

A couple of years ago a big, bold mockingbird built a nest in a tree less than ten meters from my deck. At first it was fascinating and amazing to be able to hear his incredible song so loudly and in such great detail. What a fantastic ringside seat for such a natural wonder!

I soon realized that my new neighbor was one of those troublesome ones who play loud music all through the night. What could I do? Birds do not have landlords. I suppose I could complain to God.

It might be easier to sleep through such a performance if it weren’t so darn creative. It seems like the brain’s automatic mechanism for ignoring repetitive stimuli (think of the alarm clock’s tick tock) is not easily triggered by such a varied input.

So there I lay, through spring and early summer, unable to ignore the constant trills, peeps, warbles, chirps, caws, chip-chip-chips, burbles, bleedle-bleeps, woo-woo-woos, ……

I was thinking how nice it is that this new one lives a bit farther away.

Until this morning, that is, around 4:30, when my new friend perched somewhere much closer and began his serenade.

Uh oh…

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