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THE MOCKING-BIRD. The mocking-bird, though wanting in that brilliancy of plumage which generally distinguishes tropical birds, is elegantly formed, and, from the peculiar and astonishing power of his voice, which is not only musical, but capable of almost every degree of modulation, has been most justly called the queen of singing birds; and among the South American Indians, on account of its powers of imitation, it goes by the name of "cencontlatolly," or four hundred tongues. He imitates to perfection the song birds of his native groves, as well as the less melodious noises of insects and animals, from the warbling of the wood-thrush to the harsh note of the tree-toad, and in all his imitations he faithfully follows his originals ; while in force and sweetness of expression he generally exceeds them.
The mocking-bird is a native of America and the West Indies; and, amid the glorious scenery of the tropics, mounted on the topmost branch of the orange or lime tree, day and night he is to be heard pouring forth a flood of the richest melody. At night his mocking propensities are not so noticeable; but as soon as the sun rises, and the multitude of warblers burst forth, his admirable song rises pre-eminent over every competitor. His natural notes, which are bold and full, and varied beyond expression, exceed in beauty that of any other bird, not excepting our own sweet nightingale ; and therefore, it seems folly in him to imitate
that which is inferior ; but it is his instinct and he enjoys it, and so follows the bent Nature has endowed him with.
When they take up their station, as they often do, near the house, you may hear them for hours pouring forth a succession of imitative notes. In fact, there is nothing the mocking-bird will not imitate ; even in the midst of his most rapturous cadences, if a sheep bleat, a puppy cry, or a guinea-fowl or a common hen make a noise, he immediately stops short and mocks it most accurately, and with a degree of hilarity that shows he enjoys the sport.
So well, indeed, does he take off any sound that strikes his ear, that even the animals he imitates are deceived; for Wilson tells us tbat, in his domesticated state, if he whistles, the dog starts up, wags his tail, and runs to meet his master; if he squeaks out like a hurt chicken, the hen hurries about with hanging wings and bristling feathers, clucking to protect its injured brood. The barking of a dog, the mewing of a cat, the creaking of a passing wheelbarrow, are imitated with great truth and rapidity. “He repeats the tunes taught him by his master, though of considerable length, fully and faithfully. He runs over the quivering of the canary, and 'the clear whistling of the Virginia nightingale, or red bird, with such superior execution and effect that the mortified songsters feel their own inferiority and become altogether silent, while he seems to triumph in their defeat by redoubling his exertions."
The beauty and freshness of his melody is not, however, to be heard in captivity; it is heard to the best advantage when the stillness of night has settled upon his native grove.
One evening, many years since, having dined with a West Indian planter, and while enjoying the cool air of a tropical night and the flavour of a fragrant Havannah, we heard the glorious song and imitative powers of this bird to per-' fection. We were seated by the window, the doors being thrown open to admit the refreshing night breeze. It was a delicious and balmy night, and the moon shone out from the depths of the clear, blue sky with such intensity that the eye could not gaze upon her dazzling brightness. The distant ocean, irradiated with a flood of soft and silvery light, slept tranquilly before us; the night was still and voiceless ; a calm repose hung over everything. At times not a sound could be heard but the low, musical hum of insects like the soft undulations of fairy music, which came from the grassy savanna-except when the tinkling of a guitar, and the voice of a singer, occasionally accompanied by bursts of laughter, came from the adjoining negro village.
Suddenly, as though he had just awakened, a mocking-bird from a grove of limes sent forth a few short, uncertain notes, followed by a burst of melody that broke sweetly the intense silence by which we were surrounded. Then came an answer from a more distant tree, and then another and another took up the strain, till the valley resounded with their rich and thrilling song. It was observable, too, that no two sang at the same time they answered one another, listening and singing by turns.
One of these little fellows, who had selected for his perch the topmost twig of an orange-tree not far off, amused us vastly. He danced about in a manner truly comical, all the while jerking up his tail; and then, in a sort of frenzy of ecstacy, he flew up some feet in the air, and tumbled, as it were, with his head downwards till he reached his perch, when he turned round, and, with his wings still spread,
continued a sportive sort of gesticulation as he sang, as though laughing at us. This little fellow seemed perfectly conscious that we were observing him ; indeed, the mocking-bird is always bold and forward in his bebaviour, inviting, rather than avoiding, notice, but this one danced about with a gaiety and rapidity of movement that was quite irresistible. While he was thus exerting himself, something occasioned my friend to sneeze, and immediately it was echoed from tree to tree " Ah-tu-chew, ah-tu-chew"-till we could have fancied it was either an echo, or that half-a-dozen persons had been similarly seized.
The mocking-bird is about the size of a blackbird, elegantly and slenderly made, and in figure well-proportioned and handsome. The bill is black; the iris of the eye of a brownish yellow; the head, back, and tail dark brown; the belly light grey, and the feet and legs black and strong. The wings are brown, except that the upper part of the quill feathers have their extreme ends white; and some of the small feathers near the shoulders are tinged with white. The male and female birds are in appearance so much alike that they are not easily distinguished; but the male may be known by the superior ease, elegance, and rapidity of his movements, and the animation and intelligence he displays while attending to his mate.
Audubon gives a most interesting account of the loves of these elegant birds, wbich, though we have not space to quote, we shall embody in our narrative. They often select the vicinity of the planter's house, where, surrounded by the richest scenery, and embowered amidst thousands of beautiful flowers, they build their nest. The female selects the spot, the male the while attending and aiding her in her choice. The golden orange, the beautiful magnolias and bignonias, the fig and the pear trees are inspected, and these quite close to the house; for the birds know that, while man is not a dangerous enemy, his dwelling is usually protected from strong winds, and therefore they fix their abode in its vicinity, perhaps in the nearest tree to his window; and so little suspicious are they of interference, that they often build them go low that you can see into them a you stand.
After the nest is arranged, and the female has laid an egg, the male redoubles his caresses. When the eggs are all laid, four, and sometimes five, in number, the male has nothing more to do with the nest, but sits on a neighbouring bough, and sings to his mate during the time of incubation, which is about fourteen days. Now and then, in the midst of his song, he sees an insect that he knows will suit the taste of his beloved ; and, stopping short, he drops upon it, kills it, and then flies off to the nest to feed and secure the warm thanks of his devoted mate.
During the period of incubation, these dauntless birds show great boldness and courage in the defence of their nest; neither cat, dog, nor any other animal can approach without being attacked. Birds, too, no matter of what size, if they approach the sacred spot containing the nest of the brave mocking-bird, are instantly driven from the neighbourhood. Indeed, the male bird does not hesitate to attack the intruders though they be three or four in a group.
Wilson remarks that, at these times, his vengeance is most particularly directed against his mortal enemy the black snake. “Whenever the insidious approaches of this reptile are discovered, the male darts upon it with the rapidity of an arrow, dexterously eluding its bite, and striking it violently and incessantly about the head, where it is very vulnerable. The snake soon becomes sensible of its danger,
and seeks to escape ; but the intrepid defender of his young redoubles bis exertions, and, unless his antagonist be of great magnitude, often succeeds in destroying him. All its pretended powers of fascination avail it nothing against the vengeance of this noble bird. As the snake's strength begins to flag, the mocking-bird seizes and lifts it up partly from the ground, beating it with his wings; and when the business is completed, he returns to the repository of his young, mounts the summit of the bush, and pours out a torrent of song in token of victory."
“But the hogs," Mr. Gosse tells us, "are the creatures that give him the most annoyance. They are ordinarily fed upon the inferior oranges, the fruit being shaken down to them in the evening : hence they acquire the habit of resorting to the orange-trees to wait for a lucky windfall. The mocking-bird, feeling nettled at the intrusion, flies down, and begins to peck the hog with all his might. Piggy, not understanding the matter, but pleased with the titillation, gently lies down and turns up his broad side to enjoy it; the poor bird gets into an agony of distress, pecks and pecks again, but only increases the enjoyment of his luxurious intruder, and is at last compelled to give up the effort in despair."
The mocking-bird builds its nest in an ingenious manner, and, though no attempt at concealment is made, it is placed so as to protect it from the depredations of the destructive vermin which abound in the tropics. It is usually suspended from the extremity of a branch, and, though not an elaborate structure, is very curiously bound together with shreds of rag and fine fibrous roots. When the young ones are hatched they make a strange sort of noise, half hissing, half whistling-very pleasing, no doubt, to their fond parents, but still not harmonious or pleasant to man.
They generally produce two broods of young in the season, unless they are robbed of, or some misfortune occurs to, their eggs, in which case they nest a third time. They are extremely jealous of their nests, and forsake them if much disturbed. They are vocal at all seasons, their song not being, as in some cases, confined to the period when courtship calls forth the sympathies and affections of the sexes towards each other.
Their food consists mainly of berries, of which there are large numbers in the swampy thickets which abound in the tropics, as well as winged insects, of which they are exceedingly fond.
In conclusion, we can only say that, though our description of the vocal powers of the mocking-bird may appear highly coloured, it is by no means overdrawn; on the contrary, such are the lively habits and uncommon vocal powers of this extraordinary bird, and so numerous and strange are the anecdotes which have been from time to time published, that, if they had not been recorded by those who had seen and heard those things of which they write, and did we not know, from our own observation, that this is a real and not a mythical bird—if we were not assured of the fidelity and accuracy of those excellent observers who have described itwe should fancy it a magic bird-an inhabitant of fairy-land, and not a creature of this earth.
July is here; according to Spenser,
“Hot July, boiling like to fire ;" let us, therefore, rise with the thermometer to do him honour; for whether our experience would lead us to agree with the poet, or whether it would prompt us to entertain a totally opposite opinion, is not of the slightest consequence. History, ancient and modern, sacred and profane, teaches us the wisdom of obtaining the favour of the powers that be; and as we must submit, nolens volens, to the caprices of July for thirty-one days, we will assume the courtier face -smile on his advent, bid him welcome, and trust that he will not receive our overtures with coldness. For oh, the horrors of a sunless day in summer! The garments which might give us warmth are not to be abstracted without much serious deliberation from the out-of-the-way chests and drawers to which they have been consigned; the fire-places, from which a genial glow might be shed over our chilly limbs, are incapacitated from performing their functions by shavings of fantastic forms and divers colours-by aprons rivalling those of the freemasons in gorgeousness, wbich must on no account be displaced until the orthodox time for fires comes round.
But why talk ourselves into melancholy about that which may never be? We bare not the gift of prophecy; and, for aught we know, the present month may be a specimen of those good old-fashioned, melting, freckling, sun-burning summers, when walks unaccompanied by umbrellas are feasible, when parasols are sine quâ nons, and when it is, indeed, “hot, with," with : vengeance. Rejoice, then, 0 our soul, in this most pleasing hope! Let your dreams be of azure skies, of scented flowers, and bay-fields! We'll to the country. Not to Hampton Court, Epping Forest, or Greenwich Park; but to the real, genuine, bona fide, unmistakeable country; to some unsophisticated district where Raffaello d'Urbino Sanzio is unknown, but where Nature's canvas is rich with miracles of form and colour; to green woods and glades, where Hoby's boots hare never trodden, and where relics of cockney pic-nics, in the shape of Guinness's stout labels, do not flutter across our path. We have heard much of rural pleasures; we must needs go and profe them. We will woo Solitude, and see if there be as much in her as Zimmerinann and some others would have us to believe. We will inhale the breath of morn, drink buttermilk, roll amongst the hay, feed poultry, and-forasmuch as our bump of cautiousness is largely developed—will not forget to “lay up something," in the shape of books, "for a rainy day."
No celestial being gives title to July; but its name is a long-standing compliment to Julius Cæsar-a man quite as useful in his way as the whole Pantheon of Greece or Rome, and a mai whose deeds are too well known for any résumé of his history to be necessary in these pages. In this month was his natal day; and it is owing to the improvements he made in the calendar that his name is thus preserved in our almanacs.
The mysterious announcement, Visit of V. Mary (July 2nd), demands some explanation; and hereby “hangs a tale”—a tale which places the doctrine of the infallibility of the Head of the Church of Rome in a most striking light! In the fourteenth century Europe was distracted by the feuds of two men who each claimed to be appointed the successor of St. Peter, and struggled to take possession of the pontifical chair, which, being only constructed to hold one inside, could not possibly accommodate both the disputants at once. The rival Popes, known by the titles of Urban the Sixth and Clement the Seventh, had each their partisans : Italy, Germany, England, and the northern kingdom, according support to the former; France, Spain, Savoy, Lorraine, and