Texas State Bird – Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos

Common Mocking-Bird

State Bird of Texas

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.

VOLUME II.

COMMON MOCKING-BIRD.
[Northern Mockingbird.]

ORPHEUS POLYGLOTTUS, Linn.
[Mimus polyglottos.]

PLATE CXXXVIII.–MALE AND FEMALE.

It is where the great magnolia shoots up its majestic trunk, crownedwith evergreen leaves, and decorated with a thousand beautiful flowers,that perfume the air around; where the forests and fields are adorned withblossoms of every hue; where the golden orange ornaments the gardens andgroves; where bignonias of various kinds interlace their climbing stemsaround the white-flowered stuartia, and mounting still higher, cover thesummits of the lofty trees around, accompanied with innumerable vines,that here and there festoon the dense foliage of the magnificent woods,lending to the vernal breeze a slight portion of the perfume of their clusteredflowers; where a genial warmth seldom forsakes the atmosphere; where berriesand fruits of all descriptions are met with at every step;–in a word,kind reader, it is where Nature seems to have paused, as she passed overthe earth, and opening her stores, to have strewed with unsparing handthe diversified seeds from which have sprung all the beautiful and splendidforms which I should in vain attempt to describe, that the Mocking-birdshould have fixed its abode, there only that its wondrous song should beheard.

But where is that favoured land?–It is in this great continent.–Itis, reader, in Louisiana that these bounties of nature are in the greatestperfection. It is there that you should listen to the love-song of theMocking-bird, as I at this moment do. See how he flies round his mate,with motions as light as those of the butterfly! His tail is widely expanded,he mounts in the air to a small distance, describes a circle, and, againalighting, approaches his beloved one, his eyes gleaming with delight,for she has already promised to be his and his only. His beautiful wingsare gently raised, he bows to his love, and again bouncing upwards, openshis bill, and pours forth his melody, full of exultation at the conquestwhich he has made.

They are not the soft sounds of the flute or of the hautboy that I hear,but the sweeter notes of Nature’s own music. The mellowness of the song,the varied modulations and gradations, the extent of its compass, the greatbrilliancy of execution, are unrivalled. There is probably no bird in theworld that possesses all the musical qualifications of this king of song,who has derived all from Nature’s self. Yes, reader, all!

No sooner has he again alighted, and the conjugal contract has beensealed, than, as if his breast was about to be rent with delight, he againpours forth his notes with more softness and richness than before. He nowsoars higher, glancing around with a vigilant eye, to assure himself thatnone has witnessed his bliss. When these love-scenes, visible only to theardent lover of nature, are over, he dances through the air, full of animationand delight, and, as if to convince his lovely mate that to enrich herhopes he has much more love in store, he that moment begins anew, and imitatesall the notes which nature has imparted to the other songsters of the grove.

For awhile, each long day and pleasant night are thus spent; but ata peculiar note of the female he ceases his song, and attends to her wishes.A nest is to be prepared, and the choice of a place in which to lay itis to become a matter of mutual consideration. The orange, the fig, thepear-tree of the gardens are inspected; the thick briar patches are alsovisited. They appear all so well suited for the purpose in view, and sowell does the bird know that man is not his most dangerous enemy, thatinstead of retiring from him, they at length fix their abode in his vicinity,perhaps in the nearest tree to his window. Dried twigs, leaves, grasses,cotton, flax, and other substances, are picked up, carried to a forkedbranch, and there arranged. Five eggs are deposited in due time, when themale having little more to do than to sing his mate to repose, attuneshis pipe anew. Every now and then he spies an insect on the ground, thetaste of which he is sure will please his beloved one. He drops upon it,takes it in his bill, beats it against the earth, and flies to the nestto feed and receive the warm thanks of his devoted female.

When a fortnight has elapsed, the young brood demand all their careand attention. No cat, no vile snake, no dreaded Hawk, is likely to visittheir habitation. Indeed the inmates of the next house have by this timebecome quite attached to the lovely pair of Mocking-birds, and take pleasurein contributing to their safety. The dew-berries from the fields, and manykinds of fruit from the gardens, mixed with insects, supply the young aswell as the parents with food. The brood is soon seen emerging from thenest, and in another fortnight, being now able to fly with vigour, andto provide for themselves, they leave the parent birds, as many other speciesdo.

The above account does not contain all that I wish you to know of thehabits of this remarkable songster; so, I shall shift the scene to thewoods and wilds, where we shall examine it more particularly.

The Mocking-bird remains in Louisiana the whole year. I have observedwith astonishment, that towards the end of October, when those which hadgone to the Eastern States, some as far as Boston, have returned, theyare instantly known by the "southrons," who attack them on alloccasions. I have ascertained this by observing the greater shyness exhibitedby the strangers for weeks after their arrival. This shyness, however,is shortly over, as well as the animosity displayed by the resident birds,and during the winter there exists a great appearance of sociality amongthe united tribes.

In the beginning of April, sometimes a fortnight earlier, the Mocking-birdspair, and construct their nests. In some instances they are so carelessas to place the nest between the rails of a fence directly by the road.I have frequently found it in such places, or in the fields, as well asin briars, but always so easily discoverable that any person desirous ofprocuring one, might do so in a very short time. It is coarsely constructedon the outside, being there composed of dried sticks of briars, witheredleaves of trees, and grasses, mixed with wool. Internally it is finishedwith fibrous roots disposed in a circular form, but carelessly arranged.The female lays from four to six eggs the first time, four or five thenext, and when there is a third brood, which is sometimes the case, seldommore than three, of which I have rarely found more than two hatched. Theeggs are of a short oval form, light green, blotched and spotted with umber.The young of the last brood not being able to support themselves untillate in the season, when many of the berries and insects have become scarce,are stunted in growth;–a circumstance which has induced some persons toimagine the existence in the United States of two species of Common Mocking-bird,a larger and a smaller. This, however, in as far as my observation goes,is not correct. The first brood is frequently brought to the bird-marketin New Orleans as early as the middle of April. A little farther up thecountry, they are out by the fifteenth of May. The second brood is hatchedin July, and the third in the latter part of September.

The nearer you approach to the sea-shores, the more plentiful do youfind these birds. They are naturally fond of loose sands, and of districtsscantily furnished with small trees, or patches of briars, and low bushes.

During incubation, the female pays such precise attention to the positionin which she leaves her eggs, when she goes to a short distance for exerciseand refreshment, to pick up gravel, or roll herself in the dust, that,on her return, should she find that any of them has been displaced, ortouched by the hand of man, she utters a low mournful note, at the soundof which the male immediately joins her, and they are both seen to condoletogether. Some people imagine that, on such occasions, the female abandonsthe nest; but this idea is incorrect. On the contrary, she redoubles herassiduity and care, and scarcely leaves the nest for a moment; nor is ituntil she has been repeatedly forced from the dear spot, and has been muchalarmed by frequent intrusions, that she finally and reluctantly leavesit. Nay, if the eggs are on the eve of being hatched, she will almost suffera person to lay hold of her.

Different species of snakes ascend to their nests, and generally suckthe eggs or swallow the young; but on all such occasions, not only thepair to which the nest belongs, but many other Mocking-birds from the vicinity,fly to the spot, attack the reptiles, and, in some cases, are so fortunateas either to force them to retreat, or deprive them of life. Cats thathave abandoned the houses to prowl about the fields, in a half wild state,are also dangerous enemies, as they frequently approach the nest unnoticed,and at a pounce secure the mother, or at least destroy the eggs or young,and overturn the nest. Children seldom destroy the nests of these birds,and the planters generally protect them. So much does this feeling prevailthroughout Louisiana, that they will not willingly permit a Mocking-birdto be shot at any time.

In winter, nearly all the Mocking-birds approach the farm-houses andplantations, living about the gardens or outhouses. They are then frequentlyseen on the roofs, and perched on the chimney-tops; yet they always appearfull of animation. Whilst searching for food on the ground, their motionsare light and elegant, and they frequently open their wings as butterfliesdo when basking in the sun, moving a step or two, and again throwing outtheir wings. When the weather is mild, the old males are heard singingwith as much spirit as during the spring or summer, while the younger birdsare busily engaged in practising, preparatory to the love season. Theyseldom resort to the interior of the forest either during the day or bynight, but usually roost among the foliage of evergreens, in the immediatevicinity of houses in Louisiana, although in the Eastern States they preferlow fir trees.

The flight of the Mocking-bird is performed by short jerks of the bodyand wings, at every one of which a strong twitching motion of the tailis perceived. This motion is still more apparent while the bird is walking,when it opens its tail like a fan and instantly closes it again. The commoncry or call of this bird is a very mournful note, resembling that utteredon similar occasions by its first cousin the Orpheus rufus, or, as it iscommonly called, the "French Mocking-bird." When travelling,this flight is only a little prolonged, as the bird goes from tree to tree,or at most across a field, scarcely, if ever, rising higher than the topof the forest. During this migration, it generally resorts to the highestparts of the woods near water-courses, utters its usual mournful note,and roosts in these places. It travels mostly by day.

Few Hawks attack the Mocking-birds, as on their approach, however suddenit may be, they are always ready not only to defend themselves vigorouslyand with undaunted courage, but to meet the aggressor half way, and forcehim to abandon his intention. The only Hawk that occasionally surprisesit is the Astur Cooperii, which flies low with great swiftness, and carriesthe bird off without any apparent stoppage. Should it happen that the ruffianmisses his prey, the Mocking-bird in turn becomes the assailant, and pursuesthe Hawk with great courage, calling in the mean time all the birds ofits species to its assistance; and although it cannot overtake the marauder,the alarm created by their cries, which are propagated in succession amongall the birds in the vicinity, like the watchwords of sentinels on duty,prevents him from succeeding in his attempts.

The musical powers of this bird have often been taken notice of by Europeannaturalists, and persons who find pleasure in listening to the song ofdifferent birds whilst in confinement or at large. Some of these personshave described the notes of the Nightingale as occasionally fully equalto those of our bird, but to compare her essays to the finished talentof the Mocking-bird, is, in my opinion, quite absurd.

The Mocking-bird is easily reared by hand from the nest, from whichit ought to be removed when eight or ten days old. It becomes so very familiarand affectionate, that it will often follow its owner about the house.I have known one raised from the nest kept by a gentleman at Natchez, thatfrequently flew out of the house, poured forth its melodies, and returnedat sight of its keeper. But notwithstanding all the care and managementbestowed upon the improvement of the vocal powers of this bird in confinement,I never heard one in that state produce any thing at all approaching inmelody to its own natural song.

The male bird is easily distinguished in the nest, as soon as the broodis a little fledged, it being larger than the female, and showing morepure white. It does not shrink so deep in the nest as the female does,at the sight of the hand which is about to lift it. Good singing birdsof this species often bring a high price. They are long-lived and veryagreeable companions. Their imitative powers are amazing, and they mimicwith ease all their brethren of the forests or of the waters, as well asmany quadrupeds. I have heard it asserted that they possess the power ofimitating the human voice, but have never met with an instance of the displayof this alleged faculty.

MOCKING-BIRD, Turdus polyglottus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii.p. 14.
TURDUS POLYGLOTTUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 74.
MOCKING-BIRD, Turdus polyglottus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 320.
MOCKING-BIRD, Turdus polyglottus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 108;vol. v.p. 438.

Male.

Upper parts greyish-brown; feathers of the wings and tail greyish-black;tips of secondary coverts, edges of primary quills, and a large spot atthe end of the three lateral tail-feathers, white; lower parts whitish,marked with triangular dusky spots, of which there is a distinct line fromthe base of the bill; throat, middle of the breast, abdomen, and lowertail-coverts unspotted.

In an adult male of this celebrated bird, the roof of the mouth is flat,with two narrow longitudinal palatal ridges, and an anterior median prominentline; the posterior aperture of the nares is oblongo-linear, margined withacute papillae, with which also the whole membrane of the palate is covered.The tongue is slender, 7 twelfths long, emarginate and papillate at thebase, channelled above, horny and thin toward the end, which is slit andlacerated. The width of the mouth is 6 twelfths. The oesophagus, is 3 incheslong, and of the nearly uniform width of 4 1/2 twelfths, unless at thecommencement where it is a little wider. The proventricular glands forma belt 5 twelfths of an inch in breadth. The stomach, [c d e], is rathersmall, broadly elliptical, 9 twelfths long, 7 1/2 twelfths broad, considerablycompressed; its muscular coat moderately developed, the right muscle being1 1/2 twelfths thick, the left 1 twelfth; the epithelium dense, tough,reddish-brown, with seven longitudinal rugae on one side and three on theother. The intestine, [e f g h i j k], is of moderate length and width;the duodenum, [e f g], curves at the distance of 1 1/4 inches, and is 3twelfths wide, as is the rest of the intestine, of which the entire lengthis 9 1/2 inches; the cloaca, [k], very little enlarged; the coeca, [i],2 twelfths long, and 1/2 twelfth broad, their distance from the extremity8 twelfths.

The right lobe of the liver is very large, being 1 inch 1 1/2 twelfthsin length, and extending under the anterior part of the stomach, in theform of a thin-edged rounded lobe; the left lobe is 10 twelfths long, andlies under the proventriculus and left side of the stomach. The heart isof moderate size, 7 1/2 twelfths long, 5 twelfths in breadth, of a conicalobtuse form.

The aperture of the glottis is 1 1/2 twelfths long, and furnished withthe same muscles as the other singing birds, viz. the thyro-arytenoideus,which passes from the edge of the thyroid cartilage at its lower part tobe inserted into the tip and sides of the arytenoid cartilage; the thyro-cricoideus,which passes from the anterior edge of the thyroid backward to the cricoid;a small muscle, the crico-arytenoideus, which assists in closing the glottis;and several small slips similar to those observed in other Thrushes, andespecially in the Crows, in which the parts, being larger, are more easilyseen. The trachea is 1 inch 10 twelfths in length, considerably flattened,gradually tapering from 1 1/2 twelfths to 1 twelfth; the rings, which arefirm, are about 60, and 2 dimidiate rings. The lateral muscles are slender,as are the sterno-tracheal. There are four, pairs of inferior laryngealmuscles; an anterior, going to the tip of the first half-ring, anotherto the tip of the second, a third broader and inserted into a portion ofthe last half-ring, the fourth or posterior or upper, long, narrow, andinserted into the point of the same half-ring. Besides these, as in allthe land-birds, there is a pair of very slender muscles, the cleido-tracheal,arising from the sides of the thyroid cartilage and inserted into the furcula.The bronchi are rather wide and short, of 12 cartilaginous half rings.

As in all the birds of this family, there is a very slender salivarygland on each side, lying between the branch of the lower jaw and the mucousmembrane of the mouth, upon which latter it opens anteriorly to the frenumof the tongue. This species is abundant in the Texas, where it breeds.The eggs are generally one inch in length, and nine-twelfths and a quarterin breadth. THE FLORIDA JESSAMINE.

GELSEMINUM NITIDUM, Mich. Flor. Amer., vol. i. p. 120. Pursch,Flor. Amer., vol. i. p. 184.–PENTANDRIA DIGYNIA, Linn. APOCINEAE,Juss.

A climbing shrub, with smooth lanceolate leaves, axillary clusters ofyellow flowers, which are funnel-shaped, with the limb spreading and nearlyequal, the calyx five-toothed, the capsule two-celled and two-valved. Itgrows along the sea-coast, especially near rivers, from Virginia to Florida,flowering through the summer. The flowers are fragrant. It is also namedCarolina jessamine and yellow jessamine.

The Mockingbird is also the Arkansas State Bird, Florida State Bird, Mississippi State Bird and Tennessee State Bird

Portions copyright © Richard R. Buonanno, 1995
Web version of John James Audubon’s work. “The Birds of America”
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