Possumhaw: Music of the morning



Shannon Bardwell



"The earth has music for those who listen." 


George Santayana (1863-1952), Spanish-American philosopher, poet 




Sam walked in the door asking, "What happened on the porch? It looks like a gale force wind swept through." 


All along the porch rail, plastic Adirondack chairs lay perched, some sideways and some upside down. I explained I tried to discourage the house wren, but he built a nest in the hanging plant. I noticed a bird going in and out, then discovered Wilhelmina, the cat, standing on the rail on her hind legs peering inside the greenery. I shooed her away and proceeded to build a booby trap with the chairs. Any weight at all would topple the chairs. While doing so, I looked inside the nest and spied four or five eggs.  


Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a wonderful website on birds: The male wren builds the nest, sometimes more than one. A finely-built nest is a sure way to attract a suitable female. Wrens like to build their nests in old cans, drain pipes, boxes, brush piles and our hanging porch plants. Wrens can be quite the fighters when it comes to securing a favorable nest site, even to pulling out another wren's nest with or without eggs inside. Wrens are quick little flitting birds with a chirping call. The clever wren is known to plant spider egg sacks in its nesting material to rid the nest of parasites that might harm the hatchlings. Both parents feed their young. 


As suspected, Wilhelmina made another attempt toward the wren's nest and toppled the chair over the rail and 5 feet down to the ground. Though she sits a careful distance away and watches, she has not attempted an approach again.  


Afterwards, Wilhelmina, her brother Harry and I went to the perennial garden to meditate in the quietness of the morning, feed the goldfish and water the plants. Soon, a mockingbird lit on the tippy-top of the purple martin gourds. A mockingbird could not be more different from a wren in every way. 


The mockingbird is larger and louder by far, especially the male. Male mockingbirds can sing up to 200 different songs. They are known to sing day and night. Our mockingbird was surely a male, as his singing continued almost to the point of being annoying. Mockingbirds can mock other birds and mimic sounds of whistling, machinery, frogs croaking and even sirens.  


Mockingbirds eat insects and often fruits and berries, so blocks of suet are an attractant. They don't often visit feeders. They can live up to 20 years in captivity but more likely eight years in the wild. They are quite territorial and will attack humans, cats, dogs and other birds.  


The mockingbird lays about four eggs and has two to four broods a year. After 10 to 15 days, the hatchlings are independent. The oldest living mockingbird was found in Texas and aged at 14 years.  


In the early 1800s mockingbirds were captured and caged for their singing abilities. A good singing male could bring $50, and here we have one atop the purple martin gourds singing his heart out for free.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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