Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Mockingbird Stories

I wrote yesterday about the hu hu bird,
 the name for a mockingbird in the Cherokee Tsalagi dialect.
While I was looking at web sites about mockingbirds,
I discovered some items of interest.

One of these was this May 2006 blog written by Patrick Kurp:
I liked his story about being completely fooled
by a mockingbird pretending to be a cardinal.
It made me wonder how many times I've been fooled by one without realizing it.

In a perfect world, the mockingbirds I was trying to photograph
would be visible in the following photo. 
Alas, the birds move like quicksilver, and I don't:

A May 2010 article in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette
 alerted me to the fact that mockingbirds and other song birds
were once sold and kept as pets,
an activity which the author says prompted the song lyrics
"Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird."
Being unaware of the connection, I always thought that lyric was really odd,
but now it makes perfect sense.

The Sun-Gazette article prompted me to search the internet
for more information about mockingbirds kept as pets.
And I turned up a very famous person who loved mockingbirds so much,
he would let his favorite one, simply named "Dick,"
 take a morsel of food from his mouth.
(That's really loving them a little too much, I think. But okay, to each his own.)
It's the same famous person
who years before had taken his pet mockingbird to France
when he served as ambassador.
And who was this famous man? None other than Thomas Jefferson,
known in Virginia as the "sage of Monticello."

Here's a fascinating article from
 that describes Jefferson's affection for and history with these song birds:
I was impressed with the wonderful descriptions
about Jefferson and his birds the article included.
For example, the author tells us the mockingbird that accompanied
Jefferson to France was able to imitate the creaking of the ship's timbers
by the time the sea voyage was over.
That's quite a mimus polyglottis.

But if President Thomas Jefferson legally owned songbirds,
how did keeping them as household pets become illegal?
The Washington DC Audubon Society has some excellent information:
In a nutshell, DC Audubon explains that  in the 1800s,
lady's hats were trimmed with feathers, including those of song birds.
The feathered millinery proved so popular
that by the dawn of the 20th century, many song birds were nearing extinction.

Thanks to a few determined groups, the United States eventually passed legislation
that forbade the slaughter of birds for their feathers
and at the same time, outlawed many song birds being kept as pets.
The law is called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
For a government publication, this following article is surprisingly readable:
It also includes a list of birds not covered by the act,
one of whom is the English sparrow.
But that we'll reserve for a future blog.

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