Talking Nature: Quest fulfilled to find a mockingbird

I read many times the much loved book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and saw the movie as well. I would never try to kill a mockingbird but for the last few years I’ve made repeated attempts to find one with no luck. The northern mockingbird, while common in the southern latitudes and out east, is relatively rare in Minnesota.

A northern mockingbird spotted near Duluth. Photo by Ron Taube

A northern mockingbird spotted near Duluth. Photo by Ron Taube

Last year my wife Carolyn and I heard one had been seen at Park Point in Duluth so we searched the area for several hours trying to find this rare bird but the best that I could say was that I heard its call briefly and that was it.

This year, as Carolyn and I have done every year for the last 30 some years, we went to Duluth just before Memorial Day to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We went up on a Wednesday and on Thursday morning I decided to take the local Audubon hike out on Park Point at 6:30 a.m.. Birders are used to early hikes. There was a friendly group of about 15, mostly veteran birders with the group.

After surveying the bay area and seeing few warblers but some red-breasted mergansers, a spotted sandpiper and a pair of white-winged scoters we headed towards the boathouse. One woman in the group said that she had seen a northern mockingbird up there during the last week and my ears immediately perked up. Just a few minutes later another woman said “What’s that in the grass near the porta-potty?”

Several of us looked eagerly in that direction and there was a bird, perhaps robin-sized with a very long gray and white tail. The same woman who had seen the mockingbird earlier confirmed that it was a northern mockingbird and suddenly everyone in the group was excited. We watched it in the grass for a minute or two, then up in a small bushy tree, then back to the grass then back to the tree, while I tried to get a good photo.

There had not been a car in the area for an hour but wouldn’t you know it, one came by just then and off the bird flew.

Carolyn had not made the morning hike because her knee had been a bit sore, but later that day I asked her if she would like to try and find the bird again and she readily agreed, since she had never seen one either.

That afternoon we went back to the same area and I played the mockingbird song on my iPod so that we knew what to listen for. It has a long and complex melodious song and is known for its ability to copy songs from other birds. Within 30 seconds the mockingbird popped out of the woods and was sitting on a sign post not 30 feet away from us.

If an angel had come down from heaven we could not have been more enraptured than to see that lovely bird show up right in front of us framed by a pine tree behind him.

The bird had yellow eyes and a gray beak with a white spot on it. He had grayish wings with white wing bars and a long tail that reminded me of the tail of the yellow-billed cuckoo that I saw last year. It is also similar to a catbird in some ways, which also copies the songs of other birds. He sat there for 3 or 4 minutes while I took my photos, but when I slowly tried to get closer he started eyeing me suspiciously and soon took off. Carolyn and I couldn’t get the smiles off of our faces as we headed back to our hotel later in the day. We found our mockingbird and I have a photo to prove it. May you find your mockingbirds in life and don’t ever try to kill one.

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