Listen to the mockingbird


Sometimes, on weekend mornings in spring and summer, when the windows are open, I lie in bed and listen to the birds outside: repeated notes, strange sliding calls, Morse-code beeping, alien whoops. 



I can recognize a crow.  Bluejays have a distinctive hoarse call, and I know the rusty-screen-door screech of a cardinal.  I know the scream of a hawk; believe it or not, there are hawks here in Rhode Island too. 



And I know the mockingbird.



I didn’t at first.  Then, one day, sitting in a folding chair in a local park, reading a book, I was absent-mindedly listening to a bird singing in a nearby tree.  It went on and on.  It was pretty, in a way, but it had no continuity.  It’d tweet a few times, and then warble, and then do sharp repeated notes, and then peep, and then coo.  It never let up.  It went on for twenty minutes, and never repeated itself once.



It was like reading a story with the pages scrambled. 



This is the mockingbird’s survival strategy.  A lot of birds sing to mark territory: Get out of here! This is my turf!  The mockingbird memorizes every birdsong it hears, and plays them all back in an endless random loop, and keeps all the other birds away, some through challenge, some through confusion.



And then it has all the delicious bugs in the neighborhood to itself. 



Mockingbirds are good at their work.  I heard one imitate the caw of a crow once.  Citydwellers have reported hearing them do the beep-beep-beep of a vehicle backing up.




They are dismal-looking, dull-colored, nondescript.  They perch high up in the branches, or on the tops of telephone poles, or on traffic lights, above the action, looking down.  I’m sure it’s to ensure maximum coverage.



They drive me mad. 



I really sympathize with the other birds, who must really hate them. 



In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Atticus tells Scout and her brother that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, because it just sits in its tree and sings all day long.  And what’s wrong with that?



Oh, Atticus.  I wish you were here right now. I could explain it all to you. 



And then I would eradicate all the mockingbirds.



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