Column: The Mockingbirds’ midnight melodies aren’t music to everyone’s ears

I’m not sure I want to live in a world without the rambunctious song of the Northern Mockingbird.

But the email I get from readers is at best looking for advice on how to keep them from singing all night. At worst, they’re looking for a hit man.

The Mockingbird is not a flashy fowl like the colorful oriole or fiery hummingbird, but it more than makes up for that with a wonderful repertoire of sounds that includes whistles, trills, scolds, rasps and complex songs that would delight great composers.

Many spring or summer mornings, I have been enchanted by the melodic offerings of the Mockingbird as I greet the dawn of the wild and my freshly brewed Guatemalan Huehuetenango.

But for many readers, daytime singing is not the problem.

It seems this frequent visitor to the garden doesn’t know when to shut up.

The fact that the mockingbird has the incredible ability to mimic sounds, like car alarms, barking dogs, squeaky gates, lawn mowers, or other birds, which it repeats over and over again , sometimes all night, also complicates the problem.

Every year around this time, I get several messages from readers asking me how to get a neighborhood mockingbird to calm down long enough for these tired humans to get a good night’s sleep.

An online forum about the mockingbird’s nocturnal songs was a tragic comedy.

“It’s amazing that you love that sound at night and can fall asleep wistfully, but dear hot dog heaven, I can’t sleep with that sound at all,” wrote a tired resident.

“I am the lightest sleeper and this bird that sings so many different songs from my house has driven me crazy, every sound pulsed and strained my resting body for the last two nights,” he continued. .

Understanding the problem helps.

Both male and female mockingbirds sing, but midnight tunes are usually from immature males who have yet to find a lifelong mate, or an older male who has lost a mate.

Obviously, the best way to solve this problem is to attract female mockingbirds to your garden, but that’s a tough challenge. Let’s face it, this nightingale was really trying.

Depending on where the Midnight Mockingbird decides to roost, it has also been suggested that residents cover the trees with a netting that will keep birds out, thus moving the problem into someone’s backyard. other.

Another blogger suggested sleepless neighbors play the sound of a red-tailed hawk through amplified speakers.

I’m just guessing here, but I think the neighbors would prefer the singing mockingbird to the amplified howl of a red-tailed hawk. It could also disturb the local rabbit population.

If any readers have a surefire way to deal with this vocal violator of local sound regulations, please drop me a note.

In the meantime, science has finally recognized how good the mockingbird is.

Musician and philosopher David Rothenberg, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recently joined a biologist and neuroscientist to study the sophisticated musical abilities of the Mockingbird. Their findings appear in a detailed article written for “Frontiers in Psychology”.

Entitled “Mockingbird Morphing Music: Structured Transitions in a Complex Bird Song”, the work is deeply scientific, but from the mixed point of view of a philosopher / musician, an ornithologist and a neuroscientist. Visit

Their collective work suggests that the Mockingbird engages in the same musical techniques used by composers when creating music for the human ear, including pitch, timbre, stretch, and compression.

“I’m a philosopher and musician, a person who usually doesn’t work on scientific papers,” said Rothenberg, who has written extensively on animal music.

Long fascinated with the Mockingbird’s compositional methods, Rothenberg eventually decided to dig deep into his sense of form and structure.

The methods employed by the mockingbird create sounds that appeal to both birds and humans.

“We called this global morphing activity, a phrase that is more familiar in imagery but still works for audio,” Rothenberg wrote.

The conclusion was that mockingbirds don’t just copy other sounds, but sample and then bend, tweak, and modify those sounds in very deliberate ways.

“We can always say that he is a mockingbird, not because of his copy, but because of his unique and specific way of composing music from the material he hears in the world around him. “, explains Rothenberg.

To confirm their belief in the Mockingbird’s complex musical ability, his songs have been compared to several works, including Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for Pitch Change; tuvan throat song for the change of timbre; Idina Menzel from Disney’s “Frozen II” for stretch and Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop album “Damn” for squeeze.

While the full article includes charts, graphs, acoustic plots, and intoxicating scientific jargon to validate the study, it ends on a philosophical note that resonated with me, citing the words of a Zen master.

“Science lacks humanity when it lacks a sense of play and rhyme – when it forgets that the eye and the world are one … when it cannot be seen in every rock, tree and star . “

Let it flow through a sleepless night listening to the mockingbird.

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