For the second year in a row, a pair of mockingbirds have made their nest in the grapevine outside my washroom window. I know. I know. You’re jealous. But, before you really start to eat your heart out I need to review a few things.
Most people love mockingbirds because of a book and a movie, not because of mockingbirds. Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird is a wholly remarkable book with truly memorable characters and some of the best writing any of us are likely to rest an eye on. No one who has seen Gregory Peck can ever forget his delivery of “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The sentiment is beautiful and weighty, having to do with our responsibility to render homage to the Creator and this beautiful creation that is a gift to us, a gift for which we ought to be thankful and reverent. Yes, before I knew mockingbirds, I was as romantically devoted to them as anyone might be. Now, I have known a few, and my feelings toward them have developed in a more practical and nuanced direction. Mockingbirds are wild birds, and they extend past metaphorical reference, at least the ones that nest outside my window do.
Mockingbirds are truly remarkable singers. They are the opera divas of the western bird world. They have an extensive repertoire, and the legend in our family is one even managed to learn to sing like my Grandma McCollaum when she would call her youngest son to lunch, “KEEEEEN-eth!” In reality, the male mockingbird only shows his vast singing talent when he’s trying to get laid. And, buddy, he is inexhaustible, devoted, and loud until that happens. Dawn brings booming songs one might guess were coming from a bird three times the size.
Once that goal is achieved, the vast set of songs stops. Suddenly the mockingbird mama and papa know just three sounds. There’s a “kirrrr-squk” that they say to one another. There’s a warning “CHIP…CHIP” that sounds if they detect anything in the area that fails to please them, and there’s a go-to-hell, nails-on-chalkboard “SKREEEEEEEE” that they aim at ANY LIVING BEING. When the chicks start to fledge, there is also a nagging “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE” they cry to their parents that will wake any heavy sleeper in the area, but that’s later. In the meantime anyone or thing that moves into the area they have defined as theirs gets dive-bombed and harangued incessantly. This includes my 88-year-old mother who is just trying to water her garden about twenty yards away from their nest. When the family cat perches in her accustomed window to observe the world, papa bird turns into a feathered maniac who wants to peck her eyes out. Understand, this is a strictly inside cat who has lived in the house for years and who has a right to her own habits and life, but is being bullied out of her favorite windows by a bad-ass little bird who chose to set up shop right outside said windows. Talk all you want about instinct and survival, but I know this is more than that. This parental pair is overbearing, territorial, presumptuous, hostile, and mean. And, I’m very excited about their babies.
The truth is last year’s birds were a little less difficult to deal with, a little less parental, and their babies didn’t make it. They fell out of the nest and being wild little birds, they didn’t survive. I’m praying that these belligerent parents manage a successful brood.
Maybe these birds are a metaphor as well. Maybe they are teaching me something. If you love something, you have to battle to defend it. If you want a thing to survive, you may need to get bitchy and aggressive to help it survive. Maybe a mockingbird isn’t just a singer. Maybe it’s a warrior as well.
Anyway, here are some pictures: