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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / The birds of North America
(1903)

Plate CIII. Red-vented thrasher; Crissal thrush; Henry's thrush. (Harporhynchus crissalis.),   pp. 149-150


Page 150


180                              MOCKING BIRD.
Mocking Bird. (Mimus polyglottus.)
Fig. 3.
Among the great things peculiar to the New World, stands with-
out a rival amongst the feathered songsters, the Mocking Bird of
America.   This very extraordinary species, which is so rich
and varied in its vocal powers, inhabits a very considerable extent
of both North and South America, having been traced from the
states of New England to Brazil. They are, however, much more
numerous in those states south, than those north of the river Dela-
ware; being generally migratory in the latter, and resident (at
least many of them) in the former. A warm climate, and low
country not far from the sea, seems most congenial to their nature;
the species are accordingly found to be less numerous to the west
than east of the great range of Alleghany, in the same parallels
of latitude. In these regions the berries of the red cedar, myrtle,
holly, many species of smilax, together with gum-berries, gall-
berries, and a profuse variety of others, abound, and furnish them
with a perpetual feast. Winged insects also, of which they are
very fond, and very expert in catching, are then plentiful even in
the winter season.
Though the plumage of the Mocking Bird is none of the home-
liest, it has nothing gaudy or brilliant in it; and, had he nothing
else to recommend him, would scarcely entitle him to notice. But
his figure is well proportioned and even handsome. The ease,
elegance, and rapidity of his movements, the animation of his eye,
and the intelligence he displays in listening and laying up lessons,
from almost every species of the feathered creation within his hear-
ing, are really surprising, and mark the peculiarity of his genius.
To these qualities may be added that of a voice full, strong, and
musical, and capable of almost every modulation, from the clear,
mellow tones of the Wood Thrush, to the savage scream of the
Bald Eagle. In measure and accent he faithfully follows his orig-
inals; in force and sweetness of expression he greatly improves
upon them. In his native groves, mounted on the top of a tall
bush or half-grown tree, in the dawn of the morning, while the
woods are already vocal with a multitude of warblers, his admir-
able song rises pre-eminent over every competitor. The ear can
listen to his music alone, to which that of all the others seems a
mere accompaniment. Neither is his strain altogether imitative.
His own native notes are bold and full, and varied seemingly be-
yond all limits. They consist of short expressions of two, three,
or, at the most, five or six syllables, generally interspersed with imi-
tations, and all of them uttered with great emphasis and rapidity,
and continued with undiminished ardor for half an hour or an
hour at a time. His expanded wings and tail, glistening with
white, and the buoyant gayety of his actions, arresting the eye as
his song most irresistibly does the ear, he sweeps round with en-
thusiastic ecstacy, and mounts and descends as his song swells or
dies away. While thus exerting himself, a bystander, destitute of
sight, would suppose that the whole feathered tribes had assembled
together on a trial of skill, each striving to produce his utmost ef-
fect.
He often deceives the sportsman, and sends him in search of
birds that are not, perhaps, within miles of him, but whose note
he exactly imitates. Even birds themselves are frequently im-
posed upon by this admirable mimic, and are decoyed by the fan-
cied calls of their mates, or dive with precipitation into the depth
of thickets at the scream of what they suppose to be the Sparrow-
Hawk.
The Mocking Bird loses little of the power and energy of his
song by confinement. In his domesticated state, when he com-
mences his career of song, it is impossible to stand by uninter-
ested. He whistles for the dog; Caesar starts up, wags his tail,
and runs to meet his master. I-e squeaks out like d hurt chicken,
and the hen hurries about with hanging wings and bristled feathers,
chuckling to protect its injured brood. The barking of the dog,
the mewing of the cat, the creaking of a passing wheelbarrow,
follow with great truth and rapidity. He repeats the tune taught
him by his master, though of conzaaerable length, fully and faith-
fully; he runs over the quaverings of the Canary, and the clear
whistlings of the Virginia Nightingale, or Cardinal Red-bird, with
such superior execution and effect, that the mortified songsters feel
their own inferiority, and become altogether silent, while he seems
to triumph in their defeat by redoubling his exertions. His ele-
vated imitations of the Brown Thrush are frequently interrupted
by the crowing of Cocks; and the warblings of the Blue-bird,
which he exquisitely manages, are mingled with the screaming of
Swallows, or the cackling of Hens. Amid the simple melody of
the Robin, one is suddenly surprised by the shrill reiterations of
the Whip-Poor-Will, while the notes of the Kildeer, Blue Jay,
Martin, Baltimore Oriole, and many others succeed, with such in-
spiring reality, that the auditors look round for the originals, and
with astonishment discover that the sole performer in this singular
concert is the admirable bird now before us. During this exhibi-
tion of his powers, he spreads his wings, expands his tail, and
throws himself around the cage in all ecstacy of enthusiasm, seem-
ing not only to sing but to dance, keeping time to the measure of
his own music. Both in his native and domesticated state, during
the stillness of the night, as soon as the moon rises he begins his de-
lightful solo, making the whole neighborhood resound with his in-
imitable medley. The Mocking Bird is frequently taken in trap-
cages, and, by proper management, may be made sufficiently
tame to sing.
The precise time at which the Mocking Bird begins to build his
nest varies according to the latitude in which he resides, from the
beginning of April to the middle of May. There are particular
situations to which he gives the preference. A solitary thorn.
bush, an almost impenetrable thicket, an orange-tree, cedar, or
holly-bush, are favorite spots, and frequently selected. It is no
great objection to the bird, that a farm or mansion-house happens
to be near. Always ready to defend, but never over-anxious to
conceal, his nest, he very often builds within a small distance of
the house, and not unfrequently in a pear or apple-tree, rarely at
a greater height than six or seven feet from the ground. The nest
varies a little, according to the conveniency of collecting suitable
materials. Generally, it is composed of-first, a quantity of dry
twigs and sticks, then withered tops of weeds of the preceding
year, intermixed with fine strrw, hay, pieces of wool, and tow;
and, lastly, a thick layer of fine, fibrous roots, of a light brown
color lines the whole. The female sits fourteen days, and gener-
ally produces two broods in the season, unless robbed of her eggs,
in which case she will even build and lay the third time. She is,
however, very jealous of her nest, and very apt to forsake it, if
much disturbed. During the period of incubation, neither cat nor
dog, animal nor man, can approach the nest without being at-
tacked. The cats, in particular, are persecuted, whenever they
make their appearance, till obliged to retreat. But his whole
vengeance is more particularly directed against that mortal enemy
of his eggs and young, the black snake. Whenever the insidious
approaches of this reptile are discovered, the male darts upon it
with the rapidity of an arrow, dexterously eluding its bite, and
striking it violently and incessantly about the head, where it is
very vulnerable. The snake soon becomes sensible of its danger,
and seeks to escape; but the intrepid defender of his young re-
doubles his exertions, and, unless his antagonist be of great mag-
nitude, often succeeds in destroying him. All his pretended pow-
ers of fascination avail it nothing against the vengeance of this
noble bird. As the snake's strength begins to flag, the Mocking
Bird seizes and lifts it up partly from the ground, beating it with
its wings, and when the business is completed, he returns to the
nest of his young, mounts the summit of the bush, and pours forth
a torrent of song in token of victory.
The Mocking Bird is nine and a half inches long, and thirteen
MOCKING 131RI).
Ada


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