Being born and raised in the Bronx inures one to noises that might disturb or awaken those from more peaceful areas. Our apartment faces a very noisy street so I’ve learned to sleep through car alarms, sirens, and screaming punk kids (can’t stand those little punks!) Imagine my surprise, then, when my blissful slumber was shattered the other night by none other than a mockingbird.
Northern Mockingbirds do quite well in my neighborhood. The multifarious sampled triplets of Mimus polyglottos accompany most of our daily activities, at least this time of year. Considering that most of our local avifauna is of the invasive variety, without a decent musician in the bunch, the mockingbird’s staccato song is usually very welcome. But 3:45 AM is hardly the time and right outside my window is definitely not the place.
The Northern Mockingbird truly deserves its reputation as the “many-tongued mimic.” A male mockingbird can belt out the songs of thirty or more different birds without coming close to exhausting its repertoire. But it’s the bird’s other material, its uncanny impersonations of different animals and machines, that have established its reputation as our most proficient and creative songster. Part of the mockingbird’s advantage over other avians is physical; it uses more of the muscles in its vocal organ, the syrinx, than most other passerines do, many more than non-passerines like raptors or waterfowl. But the mockingbird also has a mind for music. It’s been theorized that this species has more brain matter devoted to song memory than most other birds do.
Why does the mockingbird sing? Why else but to attract potential mates. The vocal mimicry trait seems to indicate that lyrical flow is an especially potent aphrodisiac in mockingbird circles. That leads us to our midnight maestro, putting on an after-hours performance that sounded to my trained ears like a mash-up of all the neighborhood’s car alarms. Mimus polyglottos is a diurnal bird, courteously restricting most activity to daylight hours. However, unmated males, those poor suitors who lack the vocal flair or versatility to get the girl, are known to descant in the darkness. The mockingbird outside our window, carelessly interrupting my beauty sleep, simply needs a little love. Just because he’s lonely doesn’t mean he should take it out on us…