I heard a Phoebe
singing in my front yard on a fine June morning. My front yard is in
Greenville, Alabama. Singing Phoebe + Date + Location = A New
Breeding Record for South Alabama, right?
I was puttering
around in the garden when I heard him. I dropped the hoe and hurried
in the direction of the singer. As I rounded the corner of the house
I heard it again, a very clear and distinct "Fee-bee". I quickly
scanned the favorite perches of my February Phoebes. No bird,
silence. I returned to the hoe but not before I detoured to the
birding cabinet and picked up binoculars and hung them on the side
of the house. I intended to be ready when the singing continued.
didnít take long. This time I ran around the house and arrived in
plenty of time to zero in on the next perfect "Fee-bee". Singing
Phoebe + Date + Location =
New Breeding Record,
right? Wrong! There he was, high in the top branches of the oak,
proclaiming his dominion over man, bird, and beast, the King of
Song, old Mimus polyglottus.
This Mockingbird was
really good. He switched to a Purple Martin, unbelievable accuracy!
His Cardinal, Chickadee, and Towhee could fool the best of ears. (In
fact it gave me some pause as to birds I have listed on my breeding
bird surveys) His White-eyed Vireo was a little shaky, but what the
heck, this song is so variable that the Vireos donít get it right
half the time.
I listened off and on
the rest of the day, continuously amazed at the repertoire and the
technique. During the evening I selected a few books and sat down to
read about the mimic thrushes and Mimus poly in particular. As I
read and idea formed. I decided to find out how good this guy
I went to my music
studio (I am a sometimes music teacher) and took a soprano recorder
(whistle flute) from the drawer. I cued a tape of birdsongs to the
Phoebe track and listened
and played until I found the approximate pitches. I knew these notes
would be in the range of old Pavrotti Polyglottus. I would use a
note in this range as the starting point for a musical phrase I
planned to teach my front yard virtuoso.
I flipped through
several music books looking for a catchy, well known, short, musical
phrase. The contents of one of these listed several compositions by
Beethoven. It came to me in a flash! My Mockingbird was going to
learn to sing the opening phrase of Beethovenís Fifth Symphony. You
know, thatís the one that goes da, da, da, da.
Early the next
morning I took a position on the porch and started playing. And I
played and played and played; over and over again; da, da, da, da -
da, da, da, da. I would glance furtively about occasionally because
I wasnít sure that I was ready to explain what I was doing.
I set aside a little
time morning and afternoon to play and listen and on the ninth day I
heard da, da. That was exciting! I started to have visions of myself
and Mimus on the Letterman show. I increased the daily dose of da,
daís and on the 2nd
of July he nailed it. The pitch of the last note was a little flat
but who cares. After hearty congratulations and a standing ovation I
I donít hear
Beethoven from the oak tree as often as I hear Phoebes, Cardinals,
and Towhees but every so often there it is, an unmistakable da, da,
da, da. The last note is still flat.
This summer we will
be working on Mozartís "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik". If he gets it the
Letterman show may be a distinct possibility. I think his stage name
will probably be
Ludwig Wolfgang Amadeus Von
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