The Bird that Sings in the Dark


The Bird that Sings in the Dark

By Tony A Grayson 

The bird that sings in the dark is the one that keeps you awake at night if it sings its heart out while perched in the tree next to your bedroom window. Likely, this is a Northern Mockingbird. If it is one of those, you will know it because it does not sing a single tune as nearly all other birds do. It will repeat a tune five or up to ten times, but will then move to another. Mostly these are the songs of other birds that it emulates. On occasion, it will use its vocal cords to repeat a non-bird sound. The popular film series titled “The Hunger Games” features a fictional bird called the Mockingjay, that repeats the human sounds, including the signature whistle of Katniss Everdeen, the main character.

You may not know that your night singer is always male, and only a male who has no mate. Perhaps this explains the matter, this bird will sing at female mockingbirds all night long, with the intent of driving one of them to mate with it just to shut him up. OK, I made that up. Yet, it is true that once mated, the singer will no longer sing at night. He will sing during the day. The qualities of inhabitants of the natural world usually have a logic behind them. So, why would the bachelor mockingbird mimic the songs of other birds?

No one knows for certain, but there are three plausible explanations. The first is that other bird species will become quiet when they hear their song pitched in a way that confuses them. If that is true, the male mockingbird will have a stage of sorts, upon which to conduct a solo performance. The second possibility is that the bird, like most animals, is territorial. Somehow, the bird that can belt out more songs is recognized to be the dominant bird in the Northern Mockingbird species. Thus, the less dominant bachelor male mockingbirds will wing their way out of the area. I do know that this bird adds more songs over time, so the one who knows more songs is the older bird. Likely, the third reason is most plausible. A female mockingbird may be more aroused by “the smartest bird in the room,” so to speak, the one who knows more songs than the other bachelor birds.

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