Juvenile Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) in Myrtle Beach, SC

A young Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) , having just left the nest, hides in a hedgerow.

To Fill a Mockingbird

By Henry H. Mitchell, July 3, 2009.

This morning, shrill one-note shrieks emanated from a Red Tip Photinia just outside our window in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We noticed two Northern Mockingbirds feverishly flying into the shrub, their beaks loaded with morsels for their complaining youngster. We determined that there was only one bird in the nest (and see also a spiderweb only inches away).

Probably the young bird was one of originally three or four siblings. It is the last baby to leave the nest — or perhaps the only survivor. The parents have been fighting and buzz-bombing squirrels in the surrounding open ground; squirrels are notorious egg-stealers, and may have almost eliminated this group of hatchlings.

Today the amount of material being brought in airborne relief flights to the noisy little bird seemed prodigious. It must take a lot to fill a Mockingbird! The little birds experience incredible growth, and in only about 12 days after hatching, they are ready to leave the nest.

However, at 12 days they are not ready to forage for themselves. Later in the morning, the shrill cries moved around the corner of the building to a lower hedge. Upon investigation, we found the little bird out of its nest as we suspected, squeezed in among the branches in the top of the hedge (see photo at right). As the day went by, we heard the cries move to various other shrubs in the immediate area. Assuming the little Mockingbird manages to escape the cats, hawks, and other predators in the neighborhood, its parents will continue to feed it for another three weeks or so.

We have fond memories, as Myrtle Beach tourists, of Mockingbirds outside our hotel windows, creating what seemed like a complex tropical cacophony night and day. Years ago, we assumed that some of these sounds actually were from tropical birds. However, we would then spot only the flash of gray-and-white wings and tailfeathers of the noisy culprits — Northern Mockingbirds, no less! We guessed that perhaps the mockers were learning their unlikely and exotic spiels from caged tropical birds at various Myrtle Beach establishments.

This guide to Myrtle Beach is sponsored by Mitchells Publications.