Letters, calls and the tuh-wheets of the crowd:
Katherine M. Klier, Towson: Your night chirper is definitely not a grackle. In the first place, the rasping grackle sound doesn't sound at all like the Tuh-whEET, cheep-cheep-cheep, that you describe.
In fact, the unpleasant sound of its name -- grackle -- is almost onomatopoeic. They are extremely plural. Someone has called them the motorcycle gang of birddom.
No, it definitely seems that your unwelcome singers are mockingbirds (probably just one mockingbird, since when one gets on a roll he can sound like a whole flock.)
Mockingbirds have been known to conduct vendettas against small family pets. When small dogs are dive-bombed by a bird, they usually run yelping to a safe haven, like under a porch. But aggressive cats sometimes fight back.
Many years ago I roomed in the home of a delightful lady from the South who took great pride in the mimosa tree in her front yard and the resident mockingbird who would perch in the tree and sing to her. My landlady would sit on her front porch, enjoying her tree and her bird, and imagine that she was back home in Williamsburg.
Also rooming in the house was a cat, a rugged, unprepossessing creature named Snakehips. One day, when my landlady went to the door in response to the scratching that generally announced the cat's return from her afternoon adventures in the neighborhood, she stood in horror as Snakehips proudly laid on the mat at her feet her triumphal offering -- the dead mockingbird.
I grew up listening to mockingbirds.
COMMENT: And I grew up rooting for the cats.
Mrs. Dorothy Marcinko, Harford County: Your mockingbird is calling for a mate. And until he attracts a mate, he will cry his little heart out. As soon as he finds a mate, he will mate for life and shut up.
COMMENT: You mean he can't just buy her dinner and promise he'll respect her in the morning?
Toni Giordano, Eldersburg: Take some aluminum pie pans, make a hole, tie a string through the hole, and tie it on the branch of a tree. Birds used to keep us up all night and now they don't.
Whether the pie pans worked or the birds just flew away, I don't know.
COMMENT: Would cherry or apple work best? I would even be willing to try rutabaga, if you think that would help.
Henry L. Hurst, Severn: 1. Buy a noise-making device such as a large gong or bell.
2. Buy pellet rifle and pellets.
3. Practice with rifle until you are proficient.
4. Hang gong/bell in tree near where birds nest.
5. Hit device with pellet when they annoy you.
6. Go back to sleep.
COMMENT: Every try to shoot a pellet gun in total darkness? It turns out to be a lot tougher than it sounds. And my neighbors would like to speak to you, Henry.
A. Keigler, Towson: Many years ago we had a crab apple tree in our front yard, just outside our bedroom window.
In the spring a mockingbird would take a position on one of the limbs around 2 a.m. and sing for two hours or so, disturbing our sleep.
I would throw shoes, clap my hands, yell, bang pots and pans, etc. short of shooting. But the bird would not give up until he had finished his nightly serenade.
One day my husband got a saw and cut off the tree limb on which the bird would sit for its nightly songfest. End of bird.
COMMENT: Sorry, amputating the limbs of helpless trees is no longer politically correct.
Dorothy Yeager, Pasadena: You think mockingbirds are bad? We have a woodpecker in our rainspout. Every morning at 5:30 he goes banging away in there. You have never heard a noise like that in your life! I get up, raise the window, bang on the side of the house. If I had a gun, I'd shoot him.
This has been going on for 23 years on and off.
I guess we've sort of gotten used to it.
COMMENT: After 23 years, you can get used to anything. Or at least that's what people married for 23 years tell me.
Mrs. H. Elwood Buchar, Baltimore: My husband and I fed birds summer and winter. We fell in love with mockingbirds. We have already counted 63 different calls that "Mockey" makes.
There are two mockies, Mom & Pop, and they have been coming to my porch railing where we always placed raisins. They are so tame now that you can stand within 6 feet of them and still they stay and eat the raisins.
Last fall, one morning about 3 a.m., I awoke. In a minute or two Mockey started singing. I wanted to tape the sound of this beautiful creature, so I came downstairs to pick up a tape recorder.
I glanced out at the front porch, and there sat my husband, my buddy, taping the songs.
He said he wanted to surprise me with this lovely tape. I came out, and we both listened.
Now I listen to it, but he doesn't. You see, he died on Feb. 13, 1991. My beloved mentor, my friend, my husband. So if you can't sleep, try to count those bird calls, and you'll soon fall back to sleep.
I'm sorry to have written so much. You may not ever read this, but just thank God for being able to hear one of God's beautiful creatures.
COMMENT: OK. That's it. I'm licked. Which is why I decided to let the birds sing in peace. So for the last two weeks I have stayed up all night and dozed at work, writing my columns while asleep. I am still waiting for somebody to notice.