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Please don’t feed the birds

There has never been a lack of mockingbirds in the neighborhood, but lately it seems there is an abundance of them–their songs so constant that I notice more the absence of their song than their constant singing.

I have several bird feeders in my yard. I suppose I inherited my love of bird watching from my mother. And while I’ve seen an abundance of sparrows, finches, blue jays, cardinals and dove, it is rare to see a mockingbird eating from a feeder. Their diets consist of insects and berries–not the typical fare in most commercial bird seed. Which is why I found it sort of ironic that a mockingbird would choose to build its nest right next to my bird feeders, among all those free-loading doves and sparrows.

I’m not much of photographer, but I was pleased with how this picture turned out, and I never knew how beautiful mockingbird eggs were. We have three ladders in our garage. I had pulled out all three before I was able to capture this shot atop the highest one.

Capturing mama bird in the nest proved to be next to impossible, but if you look closely you can seen her eye peeking out behind the leaves of the tree.

I’ve considered taking pictures of the baby birds once they hatch, but I think I’ve invaded her privacy enough.

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

~Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Putting off pruning

image courtesy of images

Anyone living in South Texas or similar tropical climates is probably familiar with sago palms. I’ve read that they are considered slow growers, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. After we built our house, a landscaper suggested we plant a young sago palm in the flower bed  between the front porch and the walkway leading to the driveway. Within 3 or 4 years, it was so massive it was taking over the bed. We decided to move it to the backyard just outside my son’s window. It survived the transplant well and has been thriving there ever since with the help of a little annual pruning of the bottom fronds. Pruning is not absolutely necessary, but because sagos are toxic to pets and we have a small dog, I like to keep the fronds far off the ground. Ultimately, I would like the palm to look more like a tree than how it appears in the above picture. Something very much like this:

image courtesy of images

My reasons are twofold. First, prefer the look of a tree to the large fern-like expanse of the first example, and having the fronds high off the ground prevents my dog from wandering underneath the palm out of my view and eating any part of the plant. The process is simple. You need only gloves, long sleeves and long pants, some sort of eye protection and a pair of pruning shears–preferably ones with long handles. The frond’s needles are very thick and sharp. You could literally put an eye out. The palm is nowhere near tree-like yet, but I’ve made progress over the past couple of years:

I’ve noticed that the palm has been looking a little ragged lately and that it was probably past due for its annual pruning.

Not only that, but apparently, it’s given birth.

After initial inspection, I was psyched to get some pruning done. Heck, I might even take off four of five layers of fronds and cut off whatever that giant loofa sponge looking thing is in the middle.

I never said I was an educated gardner. Or any kind of gardner, for that matter.

I just wanted to cut away the ugly.

Give the plant a fresh look.

No harm, no foul, win/win.

Except upon closer inspection, I realized that this plant that I walk by every day, this plant that I mostly ignore until I chose to notice it had become home to some new residents.

A family of mockingbirds have built a nest and hopefully will soon set up residence just outside my back door. So I’ll have to look at that ugly plant for a little while longer.

Because it’s all well and good to want to cut away the ugly and the useless;

to give ourselves a fresh look and a new start,

but we need to think long and hard about doing so when it comes at a high cost to others.

Besides, like Atticus Finch said. It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, so I suppose tearing up their home is akin to that sin.

“…because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

The sweetest song

image courtesy of

When he gave us our air-rifles, Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns. Atticus said to Jem, “I’d rather you shot at cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Summer in southeast Texas usually means hot weather, afternoon thunderstorms and the constant sound of mockingbirds. And while I’m sorry to say the afternoon thunderstorms have all but abandoned us, the other two constants remain.

I’ve share with you that I have two bird feeders outside my office window. Although we have an array of bird species native to this area, most of the bird seed is eaten up greedily by white winged doves. There is the occasional visit from a sparrow, finch, cardinal or blue jay, but considering the large mockingbird population around here, I find it interesting that I have only once seen a mockingbird around the feeders. I suppose much of that has to do with their dietary preferences–their diets consist of insects and berries–but the also eat seeds, so perhaps they simply don’t like the company of other birds, choosing instead to keep to themselves. Not only do they prefer the company of other mockingbirds, but they will protect their territory with ferocity regardless of the intruder. I’ve seen them attack other birds, cats, dogs, people, and most recently a very large Mexican eagle. That kind of courageousness has earned them my respect and admiration. So much so that I’ve done nothing to prevent a family of them nesting in the gutters right outside my kitchen window. And when the young chicks hatched and chirped constantly, I didn’t mind.

I didn’t ever mind that they’ve covered portions of my back patio with poop

or the fact that they’ve pecked large holes in the window screens

And even though I’ve jokingly remarked that I was ready to kill a mockingbird around here because of their constant, CONSTANT, songs, I would never do so. Their songs are as varied as they are beautiful–a mixture of original and imitative phrases, each repeated several times. It will imitate other species’ songs and calls, squeaky gates, pianos, sirens, barking dogs, etc. I especially like how they will fly from tree to tree exchanging and repeating tweets in short bursts as if to say, “I’m over here if you need me.”

But the most beautiful song I’ve heard is the night song, sung (according to research I’ve found online), by the male mockingbird who has yet to find his mate. A song made beautiful not by its celebration of the life he has, but from the longing of the one he does not.