Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mocker Turns Into Migrant

For a number of years a mockingbird has built a nest in a Jessamine vine at the corner of our yard. The vine crawls up a wild cherry tree, kept trimmed to keep the vine fairly low and thick-leaved. This spring we were disappointed . . . no nest in the Jessamine vine.

We began a search for the new location of the nest, for the birds were still in the yard and singing from high perches, especially the chimney. We found the nest in a dense sasanqua bush about twenty feet away from its old nesting site. There were four tawny-spotted, greenish-blue eggs in the nest. Later, all four eggs hatched.

The fledglings left the nest in mid-May. One of the adults, we assume the female, and two youngsters were observed bathing in the pool. The slender, but dowdy-looking, mother was cleaning her gray and white frock while the brownish-gray youngsters stood in the shallow water unsure of their new environment. We didn't see papa and the other two youngsters. Perhaps the "boys" were out learning other lessons.

The mockingbird, until recently, has been considered a southern bird and year-round resident of the area. To mention the mockingbird would bring memories of the moonlight and roses and these birds singing all night. They are synonymous with lovely brick-walled gardens and magnolias and scented flowers. Never would one think of a mockingbird in the snow-clad pines and hemlocks of New England or the towering spruces of Michigan or the red cedars of Iowa, bent low with snow and ice.

But no more can we think of the mocker as strictly a southern bird. He has jubilantly traveled the sky ways as far north as Maine and Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. The mocker has been considered a non-migrant, but now perhaps his travels north and west will move him to come South again each winter with the human snowbirds. By changing his range, he'll be considered a migrant within the United States.

Regardless of where he might hang out, the mocker is known as the best singer (not the most musical) of the avian clan. He loves to sing on moonlit nights. He usually repeats a phrase five times before he grabs another phrase from his pocket to repeat it five times, then another phrase, and so on. This goes on for days while he's courting and nest building. Although he is a good husband and helps with the cozy nest, he spends more time singing than working.

Fluttering from his chimney perch to a dead pine branch, to a swaying branch of a river birch, to a telephone line, and then bounding into the air again, leaving a trail of golden notes behind as he dips and turns in flight appearing to have everlasting energy, always in motion.

Even with all these wonderful attributes, sometimes a resident mocker is a bully. He takes over berried bushes in winter and chases all other birds away. He's a bully at feeding stations too, perching nearby all day so that he does not miss one bird that tries to feed.

By mid-August all is quiet on the mockingbird's high perches, his song not to be heard again until October when he comes out of hiding wearing a newly pressed gray and white suit. After two or three weeks of vigorous singing, he again ceases song until spring.

He sings a few notes in February, increases his medley in March. By April he once more is on the chimney tossing into the perfumed spring air his repetitive refrain. By May he will again be nesting in the thick-leaved sasanqua bush.