The mimic in the bushes.

Northern Mockingbird – the many-tongued mimic

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That is why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird!”

– Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel when I was in my early twenties and was instantly intrigued by the reference to this lovely songbird that just gives pleasure to others through its melodious voice. I waited for more than a decade before my first sighting or listening.

As I went out for my walks to a ground nearby my apartment in Sunnyvale, CA, I would see a grayish bird sitting high on lamp posts or on the pinnacle points of trees, with the air of an emperor, surveying the landscape with authority, emitting an occasional shrill call. Often I would see it fly past and see the white patches on the underwings, but never saw it visiting our balcony or perching anywhere to get a close look. I had left my binoculars back in India and had shelved my camera due to work-related commitments. But every time I saw this bird, I googled for a “small grey bird with white underwings USA” — and pow! — there it was, right on the first page.

The Northern Mockingbird.

The Northern Mockingbird
The Northern Mockingbird

To get a closer look, I had to wait another year till I landed in North Carolina. Here they are more common and keep hopping around hedges, singing in different tongues. I could have sworn there were ten different birds in the thicket many times before I saw a lone mockingbird popping its head up and looking at me with a “how’s that?” expression. Being excellent mimics, and fiercely territorial, Mockingbirds seem to have a lot in common with drongos back in the Indian subcontinent despite appearing vastly dissimilar. The scientific name Mimus polyglottos literally means Many Tongued Mimic.

The mimic in the bushes.
Northern Mockingbird, the mimic in the bushes.

Atticus Finch refers to his children as mockingbirds in To Kill a Mockingbird; innocence that gets caught in the midst of senseless conflicts, eventually getting annihilated, when they deserve to be the carefree mockingbirds singing in the garden, making people happy.

The Green Ogre salutes Nelle Harper Lee, author of this powerful coming-of-age novel that moved generations towards racial sensitivity, died on February 19 at the age of 89. No better time to read her book if you haven’t yet done so.

Let the mockingbirds keep singing for all eternity.

Listen to the Northern Mockingbird’s song (from Xeno Canto):


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