The summer of the mockingbird started out innocently, with us noticing the clever bird that could mimic twenty or so other birds. We were intrigued for a few days, but the intrigue soon turned to hatred and despair. The mockingbird took up residence in the tall evergreen next door, right outside our back door. Over the following days and weeks, he added new bird calls to his repertoire, and not gently or melodiously. He belted like a Broadway singer.
I say “he” because males are the big mouths of the mockingbird family. Females are quieter and less vocal. (I'll just leave that right there). And this male was singing at night, because he was a bachelor, and that's what they do. The music that was driving us crazy was a love song. Since I consider it a fundamental right to have my window open at night, I was greatly annoyed to have to keep the window closed and run a fan to drown out the incessant noise that was ruining my sleep.
But it got worse. I also love to open the doors and windows early in the morning to let in the cool air. But Mr. Mockingbird, after his moonlight sonata, daily resumed the assault around 5 am, and continued without a break until 10 am or so. I couldn't hear myself think, and was forced to keep the house closed up for weeks.
Fuming, I started googling, and found that I was far from alone. Mockingbirds are some of the peskiest birds out there. I read account after account from fellow mockingbird sufferers. I actually found a website called “I Want To Kill A Mockingbird.” Oh yes. If only. With apologies to Harper Lee and Gregory Peck, this site was great therapy. Misery shared is a wonderful thing.
Unfortunately, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to kill, harm or harass mockingbirds. You are allowed to discourage them from nesting in the first place, but after that it's too late. With great relief we left for a two-week vacation, comforting ourselves with the thought that surely this bird would be gone when we returned.
How wrong we were. We were forced to endure the racket until it was time for mockingbirds to fly south. Blessed peace reigned until the following spring. But one glorious morning, as I let the fresh breezes blow through the house, I noticed a bird couple investigating a small tree in the planter bed outside the kitchen window.
They were mockingbirds.
“Noooooo!” I charged out and shooed them away. Soon they were back. I spent the entire day scaring them away whenever they reappeared. The next morning I caught them relentlessly ferrying twigs and dried grass to a nest already half built in my little tree. Desperate to save my summer and my sanity, I armed myself with an old bed sheet and a supply of large safety pins. I tore down the nest, climbed up the stepladder, threw the sheet over the tree, and pinned it tightly around the trunk.
Those determined little pests came back the next day, and finding a small opening in the makeshift shroud, again began to build. But those mockingbirds were not as determined as me. Day after day, for about two weeks, I tore down the nest and re-pinned the sheet. I began to worry that the tree would die, deprived as it was of sunlight. Finally, one wonderful day, the mockingbirds were absent. They must have been running out of time to start their family, and were forced to find alternate accommodations.
No mockingbirds that summer; instead we had the summer of the crows. Their raspy cawing woke us at dawn every morning. There seemed to be hundreds of them, a crow convention. It felt like an Alfred Hitchcock film, dark and ominous. We've also had the summer of the scrub bluejay, another obnoxious bird that screeched at our cat every time he appeared at the patio door. All. Summer. Long.
We've asked ourselves why we can't have nice, twittering birds, like the ones in Disney movies. I don't know what other dreadful birds lurk in our neighborhood, but no doubt they will eventually find us. I'll keep you posted.