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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 • Posted May 27, 2009

A Little Bird Told Me…

Column #317 for Release Saturday May 23, 2009

It has become predictable. When springtime rolls around, look for the media to roll out bird news. Often it is re-hashed, maybe even contrived. But reading about our feathered friends is a heap better than most of the other stuff in the news.

Rarely do bird topics cause us to cringe, tremble, cry, faint or clench fists. I wish I knew more about birds; alas, I’ve shied away from them, largely because of a weekly radio program.

Fibber McGee and Molly, a comedy show heard by millions during a quarter-century span ending in 1959, featured a parade of offbeat characters, including a mush-mouthed guy named Wallace Wimple. It was he who lessened my interest in birds….

  • * * * *

Mr. Wimple’s visits to 79 Wistful Vista provided weekly reminders of his “wimpiness.” He was “Mr. Milquetoast” personified.

During those years, the term “hen-pecked” was heard regularly, and it seemed to be a perfect “fit” for him. In a voice little more than a whisper, he spoke glowingly of “Sweetie Face,” his “big old wife.”

He ended each vignette with the observation that he just “wanted to be alone with his bird book.”…

  • * * * *

To have expressed an interest in birds would have invited hisses and boos from my pre-teen friends. In my dreams they called me “Mr. Wimple.” Arrrgggh!

There was an additional “whammy” to curb my interest.

In junior high, I learned that bird-lovers are called “ornithologists.” I had no hankering to learn how to spell it, and besides, “ornithology” looked like it might be a dirty word….

  • * * * *

I digress—again. Back there in the first paragraph, I mentioned that springtime brings with it news of birds. That’s when the song “Flying Purple People Eater” was unleashed on America. It’s also when annual cries of ivory-billed woodpecker sightings in Arkansas are heard.

You may be wondering: What is the ornithological news for this spring?

The answer: mockingbirds. It turns out that these multi-talented birds, long since revered, now are thought to be even brighter than earlier believed. So never mention “birdbrain” and “mockingbird” unless “summa cum laude” is included in the same sentence….

  • * * * *

You may have heard that the National Academy of Sciences has discovered that mockingbirds have learned to identify people who have previously threatened their nests, while ignoring others who are minding their own business.

Zoology researchers at the University of Florida echoed these findings with a recent study. It involved 10 students, both men and women, of various ages. They had varying amounts of hair and dressed differently as they approached 24 mockingbird nests from different directions and at various times. They were bombarded on days three and four. On day five, another group of students approached the nests and was ignored.

Floridians, first with Gatorade, were in second place in the race to designate the mockingbird as their official state bird….

  • * * * *

The eyes of Texas were upon them! Texans jumped right in when the USA got into the bird-naming business back in 1927.

On January 31 of that year, the Texas State Legislature, lobbied by the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, chose the mockingbird as the official state bird.

This means that four other states “mocked” Texas by selecting the same bird, including Florida 84 days later. Arkansas followed suit in 1929, Tennessee in 1933 and Mississippi in 1944. (As an aside, New York didn’t name an official bird until 1970.)…

  • * * * *

Can’t you almost hear a chauvinistic Texas legislator grousing about the decision?

“I knew when women won the right to vote back in 1920 that the camel’s nose was under the tent. Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll think they can name the state bird.”

Ah, but what a bird! Of the species Mimus Polyglottos, it can mimic more than three dozen other bird species, as well as expertly reproduce sounds of animals, musical instruments and warning bells. It says so right here in my bird book….

  • * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. Contact: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com

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