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Climate and Environment

Dear LAist: What's That Loud Annoying Birdsong That's Keeping Me Awake In The Early Hours?

A brown bird sits on a fence, surrounded in darkness, its tail feather in the foreground while its head peers to the right in the background
A northern mockingbird perched on a fence
(Clayton Malquist
/
Unsplash)
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Ah, the sounds of spring in Southern California — a breeze swishing through the ferns, a chorus of crickets, and, of course, the song of the region’s native birds.

“They're very pleasant to wake up to,” says Emily Dos Santos. “But not when you're waking up to them at like two or three in the morning and then cannot go back to sleep.”

For months now, Dos Santos, who lives in Glendale, has been in a twilight standoff with a very enthusiastic avian. The saga began in March when Dos Santos and her husband were woken up in the middle of the night by a “loud and high-pitched tweeting.” The bird has tormented the Dos Santos household ever since.

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Dos Santos has tried everything — fans, humidifiers, earplugs — but nothing works. And although her neighbors can commiserate (Dos Santos has found some company in the “Bad and Loud Bird Group: Official” page on Nextdoor), she hasn’t found a solution.

In search of answers, she reached out to LAist to identify the mystery bird. So we asked John McCormack, director of the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College.

He had an immediate response.

“It’s a question that comes in pretty often: ‘what is that bird that's keeping me up at night singing outside of my window?’” said McCormack.

“And the answer is, almost invariably, a mockingbird.”

McCormack says the Northern Mockingbird is very common in L.A.. Despite the “northern” designation, the species is found throughout the entire southern part of the United States.

However, McCormack notes, the Northern mockingbird used to be fairly rare. “In the early 1900s, they were actually caught and kept as pets because people considered their song beautiful and interesting.”

How ironic.

McCormack says you can identify the Northern Mockingbird by its repeated phrases — the bird will sing something three or four times, and then will move onto a different sound. It will imitate whatever is nearby.

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The poet Mary Oliver kinda nailed the listening experience as “neither lilting nor lovely,” and Dos Santos agrees those imitations can be pretty brutal: car alarms are already really annoying in the middle of the night.

Hearing a bird do it two octaves higher is not fun at all.

McCormack says it probably won’t stop anytime soon. It’s mockingbird mating season, and the birds who chirp at night tend to be males that are single and ready to mingle.

Unfortunately for Dos Santos and her neighbors, variation is what makes the mating call attractive to the opposite sex, which means the birdsong will be unpredictable.

And McCormack says the bird won’t let up until it finds love. He urges compassion: “When you're woken up in the middle of the night, and you might be kind of annoyed,” he said, “think of the lonely plight of the male mockingbird.”

Dos Santos and her neighbors are way ahead of him.

“We've debated seeing if there's a way to get Tinder for birds, just so we can help him,” she says. “If anybody knows of a single female mockingbird who is looking for a great singing companion, we definitely have someone for you.”

Do you have your own burning questions about life in Southern California you want a reporter to answer? Look for the Ask a question box on LAist.com.

What questions do you have about Southern California?