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Thomas Jefferson's Mockingbirds

Singing for a president
© Aaron Maizlish View Large

Mockingbirds, masters of mimicry, are prone to ramble on and on. Sometimes they even sing at night. Thomas Jefferson kept Northern Mockingbirds in his office and sleeping quarters, while president in the early 1800s. One of Jefferson’s pet mockingbirds — named Dick— would perch on his shoulder and take morsels of food from his master’s lips. He would even sing along when Jefferson played the violin. Keeping native birds as pets is now illegal, but you don’t need to bring one in the house. Just open your windows — and listen.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Thomas Jefferson’s Mockingbirds

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.
[Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/94375, 0.7-.17]
Mockingbirds sing — a lot. They’re masters of mimicry. And they’re also prone to ramble on and on. Sometimes they even sing at night. If you’re the sort of person who dislikes silence, the mockingbird’s the bird for you. [Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/118628, 0.17-.24]
Which is partly why Thomas Jefferson kept pet Northern Mockingbirds in his house – especially in his office and sleeping quarters. He liked the singing, sure. But he hated silence, so a chatty bird was an ideal companion.
[Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/94374 , 0.27-33]
While he was president in the early 1800s, Jefferson would often go to work in his office, where his pet mockingbird would perch on his shoulder. Dick — the mockingbird — would take morsels of food from his master’s lips. When Jefferson would head upstairs to take a nap, Dick hopped up after him and sang from atop the couch. He would even sing along when Jefferson played the violin. A most loyal companion. [Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/94375, 0.7-.17]
Of course, keeping native birds as pets is illegal in the US today, thanks in part to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. But if you live near mockingbirds, you don’t need to bring one in the house. Just open your windows — and listen.
[Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/118628, 0.17-.24]
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

                                                                               ###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 94375 and 94374 recorded by Wilbur L. Hershberger, 118628 recorded by Geoffrey A. Keller.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org   April 2017   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#   jeffersont-01-2017-04-13    jeffersont-01

Main source: Jon Meacham. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Random House, 2012, p. 353.

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