I sometimes find myself impersonating my mother when I babysit my sister. I will look over the pretend frames of pretend spectacles in the same way my mother looks over her real ones and I will say “that’s not very good listening, Louisa,” or “no dessert until you finish your acacia leaves, Louisa.” I try to imitate the patient tone of voice my mother uses when she utters these oft-repeated phrases. I confess my impersonation of my mother is not very good. I am not a talented mimic.
But do you know who are fantastic mimics? Northern mockingbirds. And they don’t limit their efforts to the avian world; mockingbirds imitate a wide variety of creatures. The poet Randall Jarrell wrote “A mockingbird can sound like anything.” These intelligent birds continue learning to make new sounds their whole lives and some will learn to do hundreds of impressions.
The talents of northern mockingbirds have long been appreciated by humans; so much so that these birds were once prized pets. Thomas Jefferson owned a few. Caging migratory birds is no longer legal, but over 100 years ago captured mockingbirds came with hefty price tags.
I don’t hear northern mockingbirds in my garden frequently, but they do live in these parts year-round, so sometimes my ears get lucky. Do you have mockingbirds where you live?