On a hot August afternoon a few years ago I was standing on a parking
lot in Luverne, Alabama talking to my good friend Guy Owens. We were
discussing birds and the miserable hot weather. Mr. Guy, who is a gent of
much experience and wisdom, asked a question: "Do you know that a
Mockingbird wonít sing during Dog Days?" I quickly admitted that I
didnít know this about Mockingbirds, but didnít mention that I wasnít
real sure what "Dog Days" were.
When I got home a few hours later, questions about singing Mockingbirds
and summer dogs were bouncing about the brain. I took a seat on the porch
and started reading and listening.
I quickly learned that "Dog Days" donít have anything to do
with dogs. I must admit I was a bit disappointed at this discovery. Seems
to me that if dogs did something weird or crazy in August it might add a
bit of romance, adventure and spice to life. Oh well, hereís the rather
boring truth of the matter.
The ancient Greeks gave the period of hot dry weather which started in
July and continued into August the name "Dog Days" because
during this time the Dog Star Sirius is rising with the Sun. Sirius is
almost as bright as the sun and is very noticeable in late summer.
OK, so much for the dogs. How about the Mockingbirds. I listened until
almost sundown and heard nary a note. Early the next morning I took a
stroll about the neighborhood, certain that I would hear mocker song.
Earlier in the summer they had been singing night and day. There was one
olí boy that could do a Phoebe and a Killdeer so well that he fooled me
at least a dozen times.
As a matter of fact practically nobody was singing. When the White-eyed
Vireos fall silent I guess itís safe to assume that "Dog Days"
are on you with both feet.
Through August and into September I listened daily. By this time I was
taking notes (like the good citizen scientist that I am). I recorded every
little peep that I heard. These came mostly from Carolina Wrens,
Cardinals, and Titmice who would do a bit of singing when they first woke
up in the morning. From about 10 AM until nightfall (and after) all I
heard were crickets (and other insects) and frogs. My notes make no
mention of anything that sounded like a Mockingbird.
This research was done in 1992. If itís safe to assume (and I am
convinced that it is) that Dog Days are over when the Mockingbirds start
singing, in 1992 they ended on September 8 at 9:15 P.M. The next day I
heard a little singing in the morning. By September 12 things were back to
normal. The weather was cooler and the Mockingbirds were celebrating with
song night and day.
In 1993 Dog Days lasted from July 25th until September 6th.
In 1994 Dog Days lasted from July 30th until September 10th.
I figured that three years of data were enough for conclusions so I
didnít continue the project after 1994. Its obvious to me that
Mockingbirds know more about when Dog Days start and stop than the
Ancients Greeks did, and certainly more than dogs do.
I am writing this on August 13, 2001. Dog Days didnít start this year
until August 2nd. I opened the office window for a bit this
morning before the heat got up to see if perhaps the season might be
shorter than usual this year. I heard one crow. Crows will sing a little
bit during Dog Days. Crickets and frogs could care less about Dog Days or
anything else if singing is an indicator of a carefree and happy life (and
Iím convinced that it is).