Listen to the Mockingbird ... All Night Long

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

When I was a child, my parents would get together with friends most Saturday nights and play guitars and sing old country songs. They called it a ‘hootenanny’ (long before there was a TV show so-named) … an Appalachian expression for an informal gathering with folk music and sometimes dancing. One of the songs they sang was ‘Listen to the Mockingbird’. What I didn’t know was that this song was a Civil War era tune written in 1855, lyrics by Septimus Winner (aka Alice Hawthorne), music by Richard Milburn.

listen to the mockingbird sheet music.jpg

According to Wikipedia, the song “relates the story of a singer dreaming of his sweetheart, now dead and buried, and a mockingbird, whose song the couple once enjoyed, now singing over her grave.

"Listen to the Mocking Bird" was one of the most popular ballads of the era and sold more than twenty million copies of sheet music.” Listen to the song here if you can't remember how it goes.

Then, of course, there’s Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize winning ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ … which of late, has been somewhat on my mind. So, what brings up the mockingbird topic, you ask? Well, there are several northern mockingbirds in our neighborhood and it appears that one bird in particular has insomnia. He has decided to sing non-stop, very loudly, in the tree in our front yard … right outside our bedroom window. The weather is lovely and cool here now, so we sleep with the windows open …. or should I say, we TRY to sleep.

If you’ve followed our blog for awhile, you know I love birds. I enjoy photographing them, identifying them, watching them and usually listening to their songs. I’ve photographed mockingbirds before … they’re medium-sized, gray and white and kind of drab. Their song, however is lovely and complex and would usually be a wonderful way to awaken in the morning. This guy, however, never shuts up. Most birds quiet down between dusk and dawn, but not this fellow. He trills and croons, warbles and sings endlessly. His repertoire includes 10+ melodic strings that he repeats … over and over and over until we’re driven to near distraction. Some time around 0530 when we’re getting up for our morning walk, he quiets down and evidently takes a snooze. It’s about that time thatf his wife takes over and begins to serenade.

What to do? Well, we either need to grin, bear it and get used to it or chop down the tree. I’m trying to ‘embrace’ nature here, but at 0100 when I'm trying to sleep, it’s hard to do. Guess I can also take naps during the heat of the day … he’s quiet then. Click here if you’d like to hear a mockingbird song … or just stop by the house around midnight and give a listen.

A little mockingbird trivia …

  • The northern mockingbird is the state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, and formerly the state bird of South Carolina.

  • Males sing more than females and are louder. A male mockingbird can learn up to 200 different songs.

  • Mockingbirds are monogamous and mate for life.

  • President Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named “Dick.” (Ain’t that special?)