Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Arboretum Mocker

If Jamaica Plain had its own Official Bird, it would certainly be the mockingbird, as embodied by the famous Arboretum Mocker. Between 1914 and 1920, this singularly talented bird amazed observers with its large repertoire of songs and calls. He resided, for the most part, in the area of the Arboretum around the three small ponds below the Bussey Institute building and near the Forest Hills entrance. Over the years of his residence at the Arboretum, he was seen to subsist primarily on pokeweed, juneberry, hop hornbeam, barberry, inkberry, highbush cranberry, Siberian crab apple and corktree. He apparently kept to himself, even during a year when a female mockingbird was seen regularly in the Arboretum nearby.

As for his claim to fame, this notable bird was heard by his faithful observers to imitate 39 bird songs, 50 bird calls, and the calls of both frog and cricket, for a total of 91 sounds imitated. Some of the species imitated only pass through the Boston area during migration, and normally don't sing while migrating. Others were birds that normally didn't live as far north as Boston, suggesting that he may have come from a more southern region.

The Arboretum Mocker made his way into the scientific literature of his day, and still gets mentions whenever notable mockingbird singers are discussed. In our days of molecular biology and DNA sequencing, the observations of amateur naturalists don't often make their way into publication, but we owe those curious and observant naturalists of the early 20th century a debt of gratitude for recording the exploits of Jamaica Plain's most famous bird.

Source: The Auk: Vol. XXXIX 1922

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