When Juliet asked Romeo, “Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear,” during a reading in my ninth grade English class, I thought I could easily picture the lark, but I had no image for the nightingale. I researched both in the school’s library and found that the Eastern Meadowlark I knew bore no resemblance to the English Skylark. The Nightingale’s song, comparable in some ways to the song of our Northern Mockingbird, was renowned in literary history, but the bird was not very striking in appearance. Both the English Skylark and Nightingale are nondescript little brown birds that Floridians could mistake for common sparrows. Yet Shakespeare used both birds as symbols of divine intervention in the love affairs of humans. Both lark species are early rising birds who “herald the morn,” while the common nightingale and mockingbird will sing at night.
The male Skylark’s song flight begins low down whilst rising steeply until it hangs high in the air above its territory, and the long, liquid warble can be heard from quite a distance. The Eastern Meadowlark offers a clear, mellow whistle, see-you, see-yeeeer. The nightingale’s song is only heard for a brief period between April and early June, and consists of a virtuoso performance of liquid trills and repeated phrases, ending in a crescendo. The Northern Mockingbird is “a world-famous singer, considered finer even than the famous nightingale of Europe….(who) sings a medley of songs belonging to other birds, repeating each phrase several times before moving on to the next…Most songbirds learn all the songs they’ll ever sing before they’re a year old. But the mockingbird continues to expand his collection throughout his life…(and) sometimes “sings” the sounds of people whistling, frogs croaking, and doorbells ringing. Although all adult male mockingbirds sing during the day, only a bachelor sings at night.”
From “Dragonflies,” the 16th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:
From the first week the fence was built, I paid attention to which creatures used the fence to their advantage. An Eastern Meadowlark was the first bird to fly to the wire from the surrounding pasture, but the yellow-breasted bird preferred to land on the posts and sing a melody that sounded like “spring-of-the-year” just after full sunrise. One Meadowlark liked the northwest corner post right outside our bedroom window, and if I just raised my head a little, I could see him from my lower bunk when he woke me. The Loggerhead Shrikes, cousins in appearance to the mockingbirds, had the most unusual behavior in regards to the fence; they skewered insects or lizards on the barbs to both kill and then eat the prey. If they were disturbed from their meal, they left the corpse of their kill dangling from the fence. Red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds, bluejays, cardinals, and mockingbirds were almost daily visitors to the fence year round, but if I kept a sharp eye out, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk or a Red-shouldered Hawk on a corner post in search of feather prey. I always scanned the fence whenever I entered or left the yard to see what might be balancing on the wire.
The Loggerhead Shrike from Larry E McPherson on Vimeo.