To trap and sell a mockingbird

Ranger Félix, our gardener with the X-ray vision and the quadraphonic hearing, has spotted several mockingbird nests all over the ranch. Stew says he saw one out the shower window too. Their vast repertoire of songs and trills is in the air right now, this being the mating and nest-building season, when the males seek to attract females. I have heard their Pavarotti-like arias, and seen them flying overhead, but never up close perched on a tree, much less guarding a nest.

Cenzontle, sinsonte, mockingbird: A wonder by any name. 

Félix says he spotted a nest close to the entrance to the ranch, with three or four chicks, already tuning up and doing scales in preparation for leaving the nest. When I got there, the young ‘uns already had left. 

In Mexico, mockingbirds are called cenzontles, which would translate to Northern Mockingbird, or mimus polyglottos, in the scientific Latin nomenclature. I don’t know much Latin but mimus polyglottos sounds to me like a “mime or imitator of many voices.” In Cuba we call them sinsontes.

Here’s a sound and video clip of the cenzontles’ amazing variety of songs (plus a dog barking in the background). If you listen carefully, I think you can make out a few bars of “La Cucaracha,” but their song is so varied you could pick out, or imagine, an infinite number of tunes.

According to Ranger Félix, a student not only of nature, but also local linguistics and folklore, the reason why our ranch has become mockingbird heaven is that we have a lot of acebuches, whose bluish fruit—a form of wild olive—the cinzontles enjoy.

Now the story gets a bit hairy, so pay attention. The word acebuche comes from the Spanish “hace buche.Hacer is the Spanish verb “to make,” and “buche” refers to the pouch some birds have to hold the food before ingesting it. Add some careless spelling and we have acebuche, or “bird fattener” or something along those lines.

This comes from Félix, an authoritative source of Mexican folklore, who also told me that chewing off the head of small snake relieves a toothache, and that it’s a bad omen for a woman to get pregnant during a full moon. I forgot to ask why.

The sad part of the story is that cinzontles‘ incessant singing makes them desirable as a songbird to keep in a cage. When Félix talked to friends about our colony of these singing wonders, some people, one of them his mother-in-law, offered him as much as $1000 pesos for a live specimen, presumably to be sold at one of the markets in town.

Félix replied these amazing birds belong in the wild, to serenade us with their songs, and not in a cage. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I don’t know where Félix got his environmentalist/naturalist instincts and his love of animals, but he never ceases to amaze me.

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