When he gave us our air-rifles, Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns. Atticus said to Jem, “I’d rather you shot at cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Summer in southeast Texas usually means hot weather, afternoon thunderstorms and the constant sound of mockingbirds. And while I’m sorry to say the afternoon thunderstorms have all but abandoned us, the other two constants remain.
I’ve share with you that I have two bird feeders outside my office window. Although we have an array of bird species native to this area, most of the bird seed is eaten up greedily by white winged doves. There is the occasional visit from a sparrow, finch, cardinal or blue jay, but considering the large mockingbird population around here, I find it interesting that I have only once seen a mockingbird around the feeders. I suppose much of that has to do with their dietary preferences–their diets consist of insects and berries–but the also eat seeds, so perhaps they simply don’t like the company of other birds, choosing instead to keep to themselves. Not only do they prefer the company of other mockingbirds, but they will protect their territory with ferocity regardless of the intruder. I’ve seen them attack other birds, cats, dogs, people, and most recently a very large Mexican eagle. That kind of courageousness has earned them my respect and admiration. So much so that I’ve done nothing to prevent a family of them nesting in the gutters right outside my kitchen window. And when the young chicks hatched and chirped constantly, I didn’t mind.
And even though I’ve jokingly remarked that I was ready to kill a mockingbird around here because of their constant, CONSTANT, songs, I would never do so. Their songs are as varied as they are beautiful–a mixture of original and imitative phrases, each repeated several times. It will imitate other species’ songs and calls, squeaky gates, pianos, sirens, barking dogs, etc. I especially like how they will fly from tree to tree exchanging and repeating tweets in short bursts as if to say, “I’m over here if you need me.”
But the most beautiful song I’ve heard is the night song, sung (according to research I’ve found online), by the male mockingbird who has yet to find his mate. A song made beautiful not by its celebration of the life he has, but from the longing of the one he does not.