Birds Blog

It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird, but not for Hawks

“…it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

It’s a sin for humans that is…for cats too perhaps. But not for hawks.

Our resident Mockingbird became a meal for one of the two bird-eating hawks that live around our home — it was either the Coop’s (Cooper’s Hawk) or the Sharpie (Shinned Hawk).

My guess is that it was the Sharpie because it’s been active around the house, while the Coop’s has been hanging around the fields.

It was bound to happen. At least two unsuccessful attempts to pluck a bird from the feeder had occurred in the past three weeks. Of course there could have been more than two attempts, but I only witnessed those unsuccessful two, and then — well — third time is the charm I suppose…

Guarding her blueberries and peanut butter
Northern Mockingbird. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

I say “witnessed” but that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve only witnessed a hawk take a Mourning Dove from the evergreen in our front yard. And by witnessed, I mean, I actually saw the hawk (a Red-shouldered Hawk believe it or not) foot the bird and fly away with it to its perch and feast.

Any way, what transpired at the feeders over the past three weeks happened much quicker. Before I saw any evidence of an attempt (successful or not) — I heard it. The commotion, the impact, the synchronous lift off of dozens of birds all at once, and then, the silence.

Each time an attempt took place, our little feeding hotspot remained silent and motionless for about 5 minutes. Then, one by one, a Carolina Chickadee would show up, followed by a Tufted Titmouse, and so the crowd would grow.

The last time, the third time, I treated it like the first two. There was commotion, a WOOSH, lift off, and then silence. I assumed it was another failed attempt. But then I noticed the Mockingbird was absent from the daily feeding ritual.

I put out a fist full of dried cranberries. The White-crowned Sparrows gobbled them all up, and still there was no sign of the Mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird Remains After Hawk. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

The next day while I was outside cleaning the bird bath and refilling the feeders, I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I saw what was left of the Mockingbird. Off a little ways away from the feeders, in the overgrown spring grass, were chunks of long gray primary feathers, tail feathers, and body feathers. “Oh no—” I said it loud as if some mistake had been made. “It can’t be—” I denied myself the thought.

There was no mistake. A hawk had killed the Mockingbird, my Mockingbird, and it wasn’t a sin.

What shocked me the most about the death, was my attachment to the Mockingbird. I was unprepared. I know, better than some, that nature isn’t a Disney Movie. So, why did I have this attachment?

Northern Mockingbird. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

I moved to a rural part of the East Coast, where I live now, about 5 years ago. Before moving here, I had lived in cities for over 30 years.

…the silence of rural America can be piercing if there isn’t some sound to ground you, especially at night.

Nature was always an escape for me, but it was never my full-time reality. So when it became my full-time reality, I needed to acclimate myself to the silence because the silence of rural America can be piercing if there isn’t some sound to ground you, especially at night.

One night, that July, was the first time I encountered the Mockingbird. I was grieving, uncomfortable, restless, and wide-awake because the Mockingbird, who was also wide-wake, was singing its heart out in the pitch black of night. I followed its calls outside.


Night in Rural America. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Perched somewhere in the same evergreen that the Red-shouldered would take the Mourning Dove from four years later, it sang and sang. The house was asleep, and me and my grief were the only witnesses to its midnight solo.

It wasn’t singing for me — I know that — but that moment, with my face in the early morning darkness, alone, bereaved, listening to a series of sounds, that many people hate, was one of the most private and purest experiences of my life. It was a Communion, and a Confirmation, and a wake. It was that grounding sound that I needed for my new reality.

Northern Mockingbird. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

From that time on, until the other day, when its remains were discovered, the Mockingbird had given me and my family many memorable moments. (It was the second bird that my daughter could ID — the first was a Chickadee.)

In honor of its unrelenting aggression towards other birds, we named it “Grumpy Cat of the birds” and laughed when my daughter called it “that pesky bird”.

Last year, when a pair nested in one of our Redbuds, we checked the nest every week, until one day the eggs vanished. My daughter teared up over the missing eggs and I comforted her by saying, “They’ll lay more eggs next year, baby.”

Grumpy Cat has got nothing on this guy.
Northern “Grump Cat” Mockingbird. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

It’s emotional. It never sang for me, it never performed for me, I was there though, I witnessed it, and it was a part of our daily dialogue.

The attachment hinges on that first night in July. The night the Mockingbird’s song consoled a mother’s broken heart.

…yes, it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird. But not for hawks.

Northern Mockingbird. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

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Also read…

Wordless Wednesday: Red-Winged Blackbird

Where the Screech Owl Wasn’t

5 Birds to Know in the Northeast this Spring

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