Learning to like mockingbirds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2013

As I pulled into a parking place at the library, something moved in the shrubbery next to the building. Then I saw it—a mockingbird. Its head and fluffy white breast protruded above a sprout from the limb where it perched. As soon as my friend and I opened the car doors, it flitted away.

Growing up, I did not like mockingbirds. When I was maybe eight or nine, I saw one swoop down and attack a neighbor’s gentle old dog. He was trotting up the hill toward home with a brown bag from the grocery store gripped in his mouth. The persistent bird dipped and dived for the dog’s head and back. It continued until the tortured dog fled to the porch. I concluded right then that mockingbirds were mean.

Some years later, I watched one attack its own image in a car mirror. Even though it almost knocked itself out with each swoop, it kept on trying. Not only were mockingbirds mean, I concluded, but they were also kind of crazy.

As time passed, I learned something else about mockingbirds. I listened to one that was trilling imitations of several other bird songs. This one went through a long repertoire. It was beautiful. I had to admit though mockingbirds were mean and kind of crazy they were great songbirds.

I had to alter that conclusion just a little bit when one sat outside my open bedroom window and poured out all those melodies at midnight. Although they excelled in trilling their repertoires, they also could be annoying.

In the early 1990s when my mother resided with my husband and me, the confederate rose bush she planted next to the patio ballooned into tree size. One day I noticed a mockingbird perched on one of the branches. I watched for it every day. I discovered that a nest of sticks and twigs was under construction. As the mockingbird flew in and out of the bush, she couldn’t help but notice our presence. She completed her nest building anyway. I realized she often waited for us to leave before she moved from her perch on a branch into the nest.

I fell into a habit of nest gazing several times a day. Sometimes I wondered if the nest was deserted or if something had destroyed the eggs. Mama bird was quite clever, evidently timing her comings and goings when we humans were not around. One morning I saw some movement within the branches. There she was, sneaking in with a tidbit of food in her beak. Great! That meant her eggs had hatched.

I finally spied some feathery fluff and open beaks. Later I saw a tiny bird flexing its wings on the side of the nest. Mama evidently timed their departure from the nest perfectly. My next peek revealed they had left.

With that experience behind me, I concluded that even though mockingbirds are sometimes mean, crazy, and annoying, they sure are fun to watch.