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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/274

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

their food call to a harsh scrawing sound, thus calling the parent birds back to the rescue.

Putting aside the family question, the mocking bird is, of course, the prettiest and most attractive when the instinct of mating is predominant. As each pair build usually three or four nests, and rear from four to five young at each nesting, one may have many opportunities to witness their courtship methods. The prettiest sight of all is the courtship dance, which should be seen to be appreciated, owing to the deep solemnity and apparent earnestness of the birds. Imagine a large chessboard laid out in chalk lines; make it, say, a yard square; then place the birds thereon, diagonally opposite to each other, one at each extreme corner. The plan of the dance seems to be that they shall hop, or rather bound, slowly from one end to the other, always in a straight line, and not for any one moment to stand directly facing each other, except at the instant of passing.

With bodies stiff and straight as an arrow, head erect and feathers flattened, wings drooping loosely forward, but tails elevated at as acute an angle to the body as possible, the dance solemnly begins. The eyes are steadily fixed, and as methodically as any soldiers upon drill they sturdily go through the movement of bounding, rising quite high and descending in very nearly the same place each time, from one end of the playground to the other, back and forth, always keeping the line about a foot apart. As each one nears his or her corner, each slowly and dignifiedly turns a complete circle, then again faces the other, always diagonally, and slowly bounds back, to repeat the movement at the other end. Sometimes both will turn away to look off at some distant object, just as a cat will apparently forget the mouse she is tormenting. That, however, seems to be only a part of the ceremony, for soon both turn back and the dance is resumed.

One day I chanced to witness one of these pretty sights as it took place beneath the wide-spreading branches of a large orange tree, but the scene was interrupted quite unexpectedly. Just at the most graceful part of an intricate double pirouette, a very puffy and motherly old hen who, with an unlimited number of offspring, had been serenely picking up a dinner close by, evidently felt a sudden impatience at the sight of all this folly, for to my surprise and amusement she made a quick rush and dashed between these happy mockers, startling them almost out of their senses. Instantly the atmosphere was permeated with two separate and distinct streams of silk-splitting fire, each fully a rod long, as the two angry birds departed for the protection of a neighboring lemon tree.

The mocking bird instinctively selects a high perch from which to deliver his song, and the bare boughs of a dead pine tree, or