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Listen to the Mockingbird

A reader emailed me that a mockingbird sings close to his house at night and keeps him awake. He wanted to know how to make it stop.

MockingbirdThe northern mockingbird is a world-famous singer, considered finer even than the famous nightingale of Europe.

The male mockingbird sings a medley of songs belonging to other birds, repeating each phrase several times before moving on to the next. He has an enormous repertoire.

Love songs

Most songbirds learn all the songs they'll ever sing before they're a year old. But the mockingbird continues to expand his collection throughout his life.

He learns the songs of other birds and incorporates them into his own songs. Mockingbirds also sometimes "sing" the sounds of people whistling, frogs croaking, and doorbells ringing.

Although all adult male mockingbirds sing during the day, only a bachelor sings at night. The night music that's driving you crazy is a love song.

Law and the mockingbird

MockingbirdLaw is on the side of love and the bird, for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to kill, harm, or harass the mockingbird (and other migratory birds).

But what's a person to do, when sleep is interrupted by the romantic outpouring of a bachelor bird?

It may help to realize that the night singing won't go on forever. As soon as your mockingbird wins a mate, he'll stop singing at night.

Until that happens, my advice is not to try to sleep and not to try to ignore the sound. Instead, next time you hear a mockingbird at night, try listening to him. Can you pick out the sounds of other birds embedded in his melodies? You might hear the Cheer! Cheer! Cheer! of the cardinal, or the warble of a house wren. How many different songs can you distinguish?

Entertain yourself by seeing if you can count how many times he repeats one phrase before switching to a different one. Five times? Six? Ten? Even though he sings the same snippet of song a number of times in a row, you'll find that after he goes on to another song he does not return to the first one — not until he's run through dozens or even hundreds of other songs he knows.

How to sleep with a mockingbird

I've found that when I actively listened to the mockingbird at night, I started to enjoy the music. I was amazed at how many songs this bird knew. And if it cost me a little sleep, I figured it was a fair trade for an extraordinary experience. Sleeping, I decided, is not the purpose of my life — experience is.

But the way it worked out, after listening for a while without trying to shut out the sound I would fall asleep. The mockingbird's song became like a lullaby.

I think if you try listening to the mockingbird, its song will become dear to you. And someday if you move out of the mockingbird's range, you will miss it.

I know I do.

© 2008-2104 Diane Porter
Photos © 2008-2014 Diane Porter



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