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Cheryl Hughes: Let Heaven and Nature Sing

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a male mockingbird can mimic as many as 200 different bird songs.  Their repertories mostly depend on the species of birds that inhabit the area.  “Having a large repertoire of songs apparently makes a male mockingbird attractive to the opposite sex” (  If that is true, the Hugh Hefner of mockingbirds lives in my yard, and his playmates have nests in my grapevine and peach tree.

I know birds eat insects, and I’m grateful, but Hef never shuts up, and if I’m trying to do yard work or tend to my nearby raised beds of tomatoes and herbs, his going on and on can be maddening.  Even late into the afternoon, he sits high upon the antenna, above the roof and his song travels down the chimney and reverberates through the fireplace like a Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp.  I believe this particular mockingbird knows all 200 bird songs and quite possibly the intro to the “Andy Griffith Show.”

I have one of those bird song apps on my phone that enables you to record a bird’s song, and it will identify it for you.  I can identify most birds by sight, but I don’t know the song that matches the bird—except the mockingbird, of course.  We have all kinds of birds here.  Cardinals, Blue Jays, Swifts, Wrens, Sparrows, Gold Finches, Blue Birds, Chickadees and Woodpeckers—Downy, Red Headed, Yellow Bellied Sapsucker and Pileated—just to name the ones I can remember right now.  Until this spring, I had never seen a Pileated Woodpecker.  I hear them all the time—their call is very distinctive.  One day, Garey had just driven up in the back yard, when he spotted one on one of my raised beds.  He called me to tell me and warned me to creep silently out of the back door, because they are pretty illusive birds.  I did as he said, and there it was in all its glory.  It is one of the most majestic birds I’ve ever seen in the wild.

I would never hurt a bird, but I can’t say the same about my cats.  Already this spring, they’ve killed two blue birds.  It just grieves me when they do that.  They don’t do it because they’re hungry, trust me.  They eat three times per day, with snacks in between meals.  When I find a bird they’ve killed, I hold the lifeless little body in my hand and say to my cats, “If you want something to play with, go dig up one of those moles that are wreaking havoc in my front yard.”

When I was growing up, my dad used to shoot at crows mainly to scare them out of the corn patch.  We had a lot of crows in our area back then.  We’ve always had the occasional crow here and there on this farm, but this spring he brought along some friends.  There are about 12 in the group.  I’m sure you’ve heard that a group of crows is called a Murder.  There are a couple of theories about the term.  One theory puts the term squarely on the shoulders of English gentlemen in the 15th century who, when hunting would “devise names for animal groups based on their poetic interpretation of nature” (  The second theory is that crows are scavengers and are associated with death.  Throughout history, crows would appear on battle fields and in cemeteries.  If crows appeared in a group, it was a considered a harbinger of bad things to come (  

  The writer, Amy Tan, just completed a book about the birds in her yard.  The crows had started gathering in bigger numbers, so she got a fake crow then hung it upside down from a tree.  The crow appeared to be dead.  The other crows examined it carefully and must have seen it as a bad omen, because they left her yard.  It appeared that she had murdered a crow to be rid of a murder of crows.  I may have to do that myself.  


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