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Dog Days And Mockingbirds
By Charles Kennedy

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).

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