Northern Mockingbird, Defensive Tackle

Cherie Morris

northern-mockingbird2-webIt’s a sunny springtime morning on my front porch in Montford, and I’m enjoying the breeze as I read the newspaper. Birdsong seems to be everywhere – chirps, trills and crystal clear single note calls and multi-note melodies. Unexpectedly, with a flash of white wing and tail feather, an inconspicuous gray bird alights on the porch rail. Cocking its head, it eyes me with a mix of curiosity and boldness, then to my great surprise, it lets loose a mixed concerto of all the avian music of the past 20 minutes! Welcome to the world of Mimus polyglottos, the “many tongued mimic” commonly known as the Northern Mockingbird.

With a huge range from Canada to Central America, mockingbirds are frequent nesters in WNC. Not only can they mimic other songbirds but also many insects and amphibians. Besides their musical talents, they are known to be fiercely defensive of their nesting sites. My neighbor’s cat is a frequent target of their dive-bombing skills. They are so unafraid that humans may not be exempt from attack and my friend has taken up defending her front porch and pets with a squirt gun.

Mockingbirds are very intelligent and appear to be able recognize individual people. I have had many a conversation with a garrulous visitor planted only feet away as I weeded, stirring up tasty bugs as we moved together through the garden. Another neighbor sits on her porch as the same local attack mockingbird dines unperturbed inches away on service berries and blueberries.

But ask the mail carrier in Tulsa, Oklahoma and she will tell you a different story. An unhappy mockingbird followed her for several months, from house to house, along several streets of her route, diving relentlessly at the hapless woman. The bird was so persistent that the USPS was prompted to write a warning letter, usually reserved for snarling dogs, to alert homeowners to the potential danger! But the mail lady staunchly carried on with her deliveries, while neighbors had a little fun with a wanted poster, describing the vicious attacker as “armed and dangerous” and even going so far as to suggest building a fence to prevent “additional unwanted avian migrations.”

The moral of the story: if you encounter a nesting mockingbird near a tree in your yard, perhaps it is safer to avoid that area during the child-rearing season or prepare to defend your home and family! Maybe consider setting out a conciliatory bowl of fruit as a peace offering. Where is Homeland Security when you need them?