Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/339

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323
THE KING OF THE WOODS.

scampering toward the house, pursued by half a dozen or more of mocking birds. They were darting down upon him and pecking at him from all directions, with special reference to putting out the eyes of the now thoroughly frightened cat, while from their angry little throats all the while was pouring forth a torrent of bird "billingsgate" that could hardly have been excelled by "our army in Flanders." At the dinner table this lady gave a very graphic account of how the tables had been turned on Jim. "But the most singular thing of all," said she, "was that when those mocking birds were pecking away at the eyes of that poor cat, they were all crying ‘Scat, scat, scat!’" The mocking bird has an angry note consisting of the syllable "ka-a," with short a, sharply and rapidly repeated, and it required no great effort on this lady's part to put an s in front of the k, especially as there was the cat running for dear life, and the confused cries of his winged pursuers did have a great deal of resemblance to the tones of a woman who has surprised pussy with her head in the cream jug.

The fact is that this southern songster has naturally a very extensive repertoire of sounds, most of them musical, to which he seldom adds a new note, and which he generally arranges in pretty definite order. Among these sounds not a few more or less resemble the songs or cries of our common forest birds. It does not require so very vigorous an imagination to transform what is simply the natural note of the mocking bird into a very fair imitation of his less gifted neighbors. That there is any conscious or intentional mimicry about it, facts go to disprove. An isolated bird will sing his own notes and imitate songs he never heard. So, too, with the mocking bird's supposed imitation of the "miew" of a cat, the cry of a chicken, etc., they are all alike the natural notes of the bird plus a little imagination, which the circumstances supply. In point of fact, the mocking bird is a very dull pupil when you attempt to teach him any new musical sounds or combinations of sounds. Whether it is because he "knows it all" already, or is indifferent to new music, the fact remains. One bird, a beautiful natural singer, received patient teaching at night in an unlighted room for a month before he seemed to be trying in an awkward way to imitate the notes of his instructor. It was very much "mixed," but it was clearly an attempt at his lesson—the first five notes of "Rory O'More." This was encouraging, and showed that an impression had at length been made upon the tiny brain. Efforts were redoubled, and at the end of three months the bird could whistle fairly well the first two bars of the song. Still he not infrequently made mistakes, forgot his small "score," and was by no means a success as a singer of anything but his own natural and inimitable songs.