A great bird. Flashy wing stripes. A thief, the mockingbird steals its song from all the other birds. One of these, singing, may trick you into thinking there are a dozen different birds hiding in the trees. There is a theory that mockingbirds pass down the songs of extinct species, and are giving us echoes of birds we will never meet.

moby = M = mod

mockingbird n.

Software that intercepts communications (especially login transactions) between users and hosts and provides system-like responses to the users while saving their responses (especially account IDs and passwords). A special case of Trojan horse.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

The mockingbird is a drab brownish grey bird with a distinctive long squared off tail, and white stripes under its wings and tail. It can be found mostly in the southeast United States from Virginia to Texas, but has been seen as far north and west as Oregon. The mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Obviously, the bird is well loved by residents of these states, probably for both its song and for its diet.

A single mockingbird's song can fool novice listeners into thinking there are many different species of birds sitting in a tree singing, but it can be easily distinguished as a mockingbird because the timing between calls of the same species is frequently compressed, and by the rapid stringing of different species bird calls one after the other. The mockingbird does not restrict its song to copying other birds; some birds invent their own embellishments, adding trills, scales, single notes, buzzes, whirbles, and merging mangled parts of calls from different birds into a single call. Also, it will frequently copy not just local birds, but also birds that live in other areas it has traveled, night birds (if it sings in the day, or day birds if it sings at night), owls, frogs, crickets, dog barks, etc. If you see a mockingbird sing, you may also notice that its song includes hops, flips, and wing flashes and other acrobatics that it will repeat when it repeats a part of the song. (Some sources say they are catching bugs; this may also be true, but does not explain why they repeat the motions.)

Mockingbirds generally sing in the early morning or early evening, but do occasionally sing all day, and sometimes even all night. (One that lives near me likes to start at midnight and sing until 3 or 4am.) The birds use their song to help mark their feeding territory and perhaps also attract mates.

While the mockingbird will not typically eat bird seed or peanuts from feeders, it still integrates well into suburbia, eating bugs and worms in lawns and gardens as well as occasional berries, and frequenting whatever water source is available. The bird is bold and generally unafraid of people. I saw a bird that would get close enough to follow behind a lawn mower to prey on anything turned up.

Mocking birds are notorious for defending their nest. Both parents take care of the nest, and will dive bomb anything that they feel threatens the nest or their offspring, including owls, people, dogs, cats, whatever gets close enough. I have on occasion seen four or five mocking birds chasing away a crow or great horned owl or hawk or some other bird many times their size.

Mockingbird babies (unlike their parents) make a distinctive harsh high pitched screech that is louder than any other bird baby I've heard. The baby leaves the nest early, long before it can fly, and will wander around somewhat aimlessly as the parents follow it and feed it. During this period, the parents become especially protective. If a predator approaches, one parent will act injured and try to decoy the predator away, while the other parent positions itself between the predator and the baby, preparing to dive bomb if necessary. The decoy bird frequently will do a back flip, opening its wings to flash the white patches at the predator, in an attempt to get its attention.

Whatever the mockingbird lacks in bright pretty plumage, it makes up for in its song, diet, and graceful motion.


sources: mostly personal observation, with some minor confirmation from multiple sources

By Kathryn Erskine
Puffin Books, 2010

Mockingbird is a children's/young adult novel about a young girl with Asperger's syndrome whose brother is killed in a school shooting. No, it's not one of those angsty books for teenagers -- it's a fairly positive book, written for kids and around 9-14, and is rather well-written. It also won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Caitlin has a hard enough time with life -- she has some severe sensory integration issues, she doesn't 'get' people or emotions, and people don't 'get' her. When her brother is killed things get worse -- not just because she misses her brother, although she certainly does, but because everyone around her is falling apart, making the understanding gap between her and her family and schoolmates nearly insurmountable.

Amongst this chaos, two solutions are presented: her school counselor believes that things will get better if she can make some friends, and the media tells her that she needs to get some closure. So she sets out to get these things.

The friend turns out to be easier than she could have expected -- there's a first grader at her school who turns out to be pretty cool, and he's certainly nicer than the other fifth-graders. Against all reason, this does not satisfy the school counselor, but it's nice to have a friend anyway. Closure turns out to be a bit harder -- no one knows how to get it. Caitlin finds herself in the position of having to bully her father out of his funk, and into finding a way to deal with his grief.

Despite the subject matter, this is an uplifting story -- certainly not a happy one, all things considered, but not a sad one. It is also fairly popular right now, being a well-written addition to the current trend in children's lit of spotlighting special needs children. For the most part, its popularity is deserved. It is well written, with interesting characters, including a relatable main character, and a fairly good treatment of a community dealing with tragedy.

It is likewise a fairly good treatment of Asperger's syndrome, although almost out of necessity Caitlin is a bit stereotypical. After all, part of the purpose of this book undoubtedly to help kids understand some of the most common behaviors and symptoms correlated with Asperger's, so those aspects had better be apparent. It is worth noting that the book is in the first person, balancing recent books showing the AU spectrum from the outside, such as Al Capone Does my Shirts and Rules.

All things considered, it would be hard to write a much better book for fifth graders that deals with school shootings and Asperger's. It is also a good, and quick, read for older folks.

Accelerated reader level: 3.6.

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