The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 16, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Mockingbird announces presence day and night as spring slides toward summer

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
news@joplinglobe.com

PITTSBURG, Kan. — PITTSBURG, Kan. — Before I relate how aggravated I was at a particular feathered friend in our backyard last week, I should note that my husband and I are dedicated birders who have done all sorts of things to attract them to our yard.

We have a bluebird nesting box trail, a shelf of birding field guides and are avid readers of Audubon Magazine.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been amused and entertained by this spring’s abundance of very vocal mockingbirds as we take our evening walks or tend to the last of the day’s chores.

They are members of the bird family Mimidae, which means mimic or imitator. Incredibly, experts have identified their vocalizations of almost 40 other birds, as well as a creaking door, a barking dog and a whistling mail carrier.

Hearing or seeing them always brings back fond memories of my grandma, who first introduced me to the species in her Duquesne kitchen. As she stood at her sink to wash dishes, there almost always was one in the tulip tree in view of the window or one flitting about in the mock orange bush below.

Every day last week at dusk, one came to perch on our split rail fence and put on quite an enjoyable show.

But one night, having had too tall a glass of milk before bedtime, I, er, well, had to get up about 3 a.m. And a mockingbird was singing. In the dark. The longer I listened to him, the more wakeful I became, until he and I had passed quite a few hours together.

The next night before bed, I made the mistake of taking a non-drowsy allergy pill. Within a few hours of nodding off, I was awake again. Very awake. And again, that blasted mockingbird was singing his heart out. Did he, too, take a non-drowsy allergy pill?

I wanted to wring his neck, but instead I counted sheep. It didn’t work.

I thought about a project. Painting the end table. What color? Ran through the swatches in my mind. Undecided. Filed that one for later.

I tried to name all the books I’ve read so far this year. Drew a blank. Not very good with titles — mainly just remember plots and characters.

I tossed. I turned. I threw back the covers. Then I remembered I’m a journalist and got up and did a Google search: “Why do mockingbirds sing at night?”

Got a hit — a reliable source: Audubon.

“Reports of birds singing at night can usually be attributed to a lone mockingbird sounding off from the top of a tree, TV antenna, or chimney. Inevitably, there are those who are entranced by the song and those who are disturbed by it,” the entry noted.

“The male virtuoso sings his repertoire anytime day or night to attract a female. This behavior occurs during breeding season in late spring and early summer.”

Then it offered me this advice:

“Be patient; the singing lasts only two or three weeks at the most, and by then the male most likely will have found a mate. Mockingbirds have two broods each season so the singing may start again in mid-summer for another brief period.

“Use a fan or air conditioner to drown out the sound of the mockingbird, or use soft ear plugs which can be purchased in most drugstores.”

Lastly, a gentle footnote reminded me that to kill a mockingbird is against federal law (see “Migratory Bird Act of 1918”).

Just as dawn crept across the sky, I eventually nodded off again for the one hour I had left before my morning alarm clock sounded. But not before having written this column. In exchange, I think I’ll leave work an hour early this afternoon. It would be a great time to take a nap — as long as the mockingbird is taking one, too.



FOLLOW ANDRA STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.