Mister Mimic

“Other migrants come and go, but the catbird comes with the violets and stays for the late asters, and virtually all the time he is here he contributes to the gaiety of his neighbors. He is here now, and he is in fine form, celebrating the sunshine, jeering at the rain, demanding attention and deserving it.

He is our northern “mocker,” cousin of the brash mockingbird of the more southerly regions, and he has almost all the real mockingbird’s talents. He seldom uses them all, however, particularly the talent for sustained song. For he is a clown, an unregenerate mimic with what might be called a keen sense of the ridiculous. A phrase or two of sweet song and he must pause, as though to say, “Pretty, huh? But now listen!” And he will make a complete mockery of what he has just sung, finally jeering at it. He has an operatic voice, but he uses it for scat singing.

And he likes an audience. He picks a nesting site near a house, by preference, and he will offer all kinds of vocal inducements to get human attention. Once he has it, he opens his bag of tricks. A show-off, no less, an adolescent with no self-consciousness whatever; a bird who seems to have the character of a party cutup. He is as capricious as the weather, and that may be why we like him.

The robin is sedate, the oriole is a serious fellow, the blue jay is a blustering egocentric. But the catbird is a quick-witted entertainer who seems to find life a vastly amusing enterprise. Nothing completely dampens his spirit, and his world never seems to be going to pot. The only time we resent him is when we can’t rise to match his mood, and that, after all, is our fault, not his.” – Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons, 1964

7 thoughts on “Mister Mimic”

  1. Very neat, catbirds. A very nice photo, too.

    I seldom see the ones around here, but I hear them occasionally, I know they’re around. Hal Borland makes me want to find them.

  2. Wonderful… you even found the perfect Hal Borland quote!
    I have been trying for over a week to get a good picture of the catbirds – perhaps this weekend :=)

  3. Catbird is my favorite backyard bird. They have nested is our brush pile for several years and spend alot of time eating grape jelly from the oriole feeder. I’ve always thought they were like a funny friend at a party.

  4. lynne: I sometimes leave a few grapes or raspberries on a little plate for the catbirds that live in the thicket in the back yard. They love a birdbath, too.

    They’re such nice birds and Borland was spot-on with his essay about them, I think!

  5. Interesting how Borland refers to mocking birds as Southern in 1964. I think both mocking birds and cardinals are now more common up north than in the past. Global warming?

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