AWCA Logo - Swallow-tailed Kite                                                  

Devoted to Helping Birds from the Backyard to the Boondocks


Roll Over Beethoven
By Charles Kennedy

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.

Roll Over BeethovenIt 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 = A 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 really was.

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 dubbed my virtuoso Ludwig Von Mockingbird.

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 Mockingbird.

click here to return to Stories Index