Sleepless at three in the morning, the Petchary was eating breakfast cereal and reading a book (“The Riders” by Tim Winton – I will write a review at some point) when the song of the nightingale broke the soft silence.
The Jamaican “nightingale” is not a nightingale, but a mockingbird. There is the Northern Mockingbird and the Bahama Mockingbird (the latter lives only in Jamaica and the Bahamas). Those that patrol our Kingston garden are the Northern ones that are also common in the southern United States, where for many years they were kept in cages to preserve their singing. And if that mockingbird don’t sing… And the male Northern Mockingbird can learn up to 200 new songs in its lifetime, mimics many other birds, and rarely repeats a phrase. Musical genius.
Like several other Jamaican birds, the Northern Mockingbird was re-named after a melodious British bird that also sings at night by the colonial occupiers of this island; the name stuck and became a “local name.” Another example is the Saffron Finch (introduced to Jamaica in the 1820s), a bright citrus gold bird Jamaicans call the Canary. And of course, the John Crow is not a crow, but a Turkey Vulture.
Sadly though, overnight another resident of our garden left this earth, and was in the process of being reabsorbed into the moist ground when I found it. Its passing appears to have been violent. A Common Ground-Dove (called in Jamaica the Duppy Bird) had died, and when I carefully scooped him into a bag, he almost floated inside it – he was so light. These small grey birds, delicate and sweet (they are only six or seven inches long), can also be aggressive at mating season. They do fight and arch their wings at each other, like their larger companions the White Wing Doves.
They breed all year round, and they mate for life – so one little Duppy Bird is alone now, and seeking a new mate. You can hear his lonely little ghost-cry here.
Well, my companion in the wee small hours of this morning sang for about ten minutes, in cascading bursts of notes. He stopped, and the night folded itself around the house again.
- Monday musings on Australian literature: the Great Australian Novel, or? (whisperinggums.wordpress.com)
- Listen to the Mockingbird……… (bobzeller.wordpress.com)
- Clubbing and Crunching (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Beautiful/Sad (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: The Common Ground-Dove (allaboutbirds.org)
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: The Northern Mockingbird (allaboutbirds.org)
- Birds and Blood (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Bird Watching: Jamaica’s Rocklands Bird Sanctuary (repeatingislands.com)
4 thoughts on “Night Song”
Nice post, must track down the call of the nightingale online and have a listen. The closest thing we get here is a willy-wagtail, which often calls all night. Cheers, Rob.
Rob, yes I remember seeing the willy-wagtail in Australia. Lovely birds. But I have posted a video of a “nightingale” (Northern Mockingbird) singing in neighboring Cuba on my blog. However, what I haven’t done is compare its song (which I can hear as I write this, they sing ALL day in our garden) with the real nightingale that lives in England (although I understand they are quite rare now, like many English birds it seems)… Incidentally, the Cornell University Ornithology Lab page is fascinating – allaboutbirds.org. Thanks for your comment!