Sunshine, sleet, snow, thunder, sunshine again, and, finally, the air is full of sweet songbirds. Yes, Mississippi has unpredictable weather but always a promise of better things and times to come. 

    Two of those better things have feathers. Yes, it’s mockingbirds and robins. This morning the little beauties fluttered from my back gate to the pine trees and holly bushes located all through the back area of my yard.  They seem to be little bright spots of hope as they swoop and soar with their strong wings and perky heads – giving hope of the beauty of the flowering plants to come and the warm mornings of April and May.

    I have never been a true “birder” or bird watcher, at least, I don’t think so, but I do so enjoy my backyard when it is full of birds and squirrels. It seems to bring a beauty that is missed when the yard is idle – only growing grass (that will need mowing) and weeds – well, you know what I mean.

    Recently, I read extensively about the American Robin (turdus migratorius) and the Mississippi Mockingbird (mimus polyglottos). The robin sometimes known as the “Robin Redbreast” because of its very distinctive rusty-red breast is a beautiful bird. 

    Some people consider the robin as the best-known and best-loved bird in North America. 

    Wait a minute! In Mississippi, of course, no bird will ever come before our own state bird, the mockingbird, but the robin would run a close second.

    The mockingbird is a medium-sized songbird that can mimic other bird calls.  

    The songs of the mockingbird are usually a medley of the songs just heard from other birds on that certain day.          Each imitation is repeated three or four times before a new song starts.

    Just one mockingbird may have 30 to 40 or even up to 200 songs at their disposal plus insect and amphibian sounds, and a few mechanical noises as well – quiet an entertainer.  

    I’ve often thought the little showman is so-o Mississippi – all of that creativity. Not only is the mockingbird lovely to hear but lovely to see with pale gray feathers and black and white markings. The Mississippi Legislature named the mockingbird as state bird in 1944.

    The American Robin is the largest of the American thrushes, a group of migratory birds belonging to the Turdidae family of birds.  

    It is 9-11 inches with a gray-brown back; black head, tail and wings; and white rings around its eyes. 

    Naturally, the rusty-red breast is what we notice first – spotted in juvenile birds. Although the birds can be found from Alaska eastward to Canada and Newfoundland, they tend to be permanent residents in the southeastern part of the United States. So, that is proof that the little fluffy ones are very SMART as well as beautiful!

    Oh, and even though I have written my bird column prior to spring, the experts report that the birds are in our area nearly the entire year. It’s their eating habits that make the change in their choice of habitat. 

    In the warm months, the birds prefer an insect, bug or an earthworm, but in the winter, they search for berries and seeds as their mainstay diet. If your wintertime yard is supplied with plenty of berries and seeds, the birds will stay near.

    It is the time of year when both birds establish their nesting territory. 

    If you happen to notice a feathered friend that is not so friendly – squawking and chattering, swooping and dipping in an aggressive way, uh-huh, well that would be our state bird, the Mockingbird, but we love ‘em anyway. That’s just their way to protect home and habitat.

    Down through the years, Mockingbirds and Robins are subjects of great literary offerings. One is the poem written by the immensely popular poet of yesteryear, Emily Dickinson.  Below is the first stanza:

                                                                  I dreaded that first Robin, so,  

    I dreaded that first Robin, so,

    But He is mastered, now,

    I’m accustomed to Him grown,

    He hurts a little, though –

—Emily Dickinson

    It has been noted by the poetic experts that this writing is not about a Robin at all, but about depression shown through the imagery of feeling a threat by things in nature. 

    I mean it’s just a little bird trying to make its way? But, hold on here, my point -- the little bundle of wings, feet, and beak entered the realm of the creative world many, many years ago.  

    Of course everyone has read the all-time classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Below is a famous quote from the book made by Atticus Finch, father of Scout – the ten year old girl whose voice tells the story.

Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.

    Yes, the world has always had a great love for the beautiful robin and we in Mississippi have always agreed, but, again, allow this Mississippian to make note, and, indeed I am prejudiced when I say: A Robin is a Robin is a Robin, but there is only ONE Mississippi Mockingbird!

    Anne B. McKee is an author and storyteller. She lives in Meridian. Visit her web site at www.annemckee.net.

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