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Totems: Northern Mockingbird, Part 2 of 2

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


The Northern Mockingbird has pale grey upper-parts, dull white under-parts, two white wing bars, prominent white wing patches easily seen in flight, and a long tail. They often flick their tails from side to side. Tails provide excellent balance as they run across the forest floor scavenging for insects, spiders, seeds, and fruits with their longish, powerful bills. The male performs a courtship display flashing its wings, while extending them repeatedly.

Don’t let that mockingbird songster lull you into thinking he or she has no moxie. They will aggressively defend their territory. The summer territory of a pair of mockingbirds is 20,000 to 60,000 square feet. It is not uncommon for six or more mockingbirds to get into a “dogfight.” Some researchers say that, besides getting into it with other mockingbirds, they will attack crows and cats, and even their own reflection in a window during the breeding season. Mockingbirds have been known to attack predatory birds such as bald eagles when their territory is invaded. They will take on a dog or snake too near the nest; however, I have also seen photos of a mocker calmly sitting on an Irish Setter’s head. When they acclimate to an environment, they seem quite comfortable with certain humans and animals. They also recognize their breeding spots and return to them year after year. A 2009 study proved that they are so intelligent that they can recognize individual humans, particularly noting those who had previously been intruders or had posed threats to nestlings – and you thought it was only elephants that don’t forget! The mockingbird power animal clearly conveys to us that it is important to stand up for what we believe in, using meaningful methods. That doesn’t mean we have to get testy. In fact, it’s better to resolve things with less vitriol/more determination.

If you are experiencing the energy of mockingbird in your life, or if this is your totem, you are industrious, and a good partner, especially if you have children. The female bird often builds a new nest while the male takes care of fledglings, teaching them to fly. Though mockingbirds often form a long-term pairing bond, during autumn the male and female separate after all the nestlings are gone. The territory of the adults is divided into two parts. The male begins to sing again until winter sets in; in winter things quiet down. The female’s song is softer than the male’s, but beautiful. She has her own territory, and her singing is the way she proclaims her delight in that. If you are in a place in life where you are experiencing empty nest syndrome, it usually involves some grieving for the many years spent raising a family; however, an enterprising woman can look at this new chapter of her life as the opportunity to express herself in many new ways, or in ways that she had long ago put aside – perhaps one of them being singing.

Energy, it turns out is not boundless, even for the mockingbird. In summer, when the weather becomes hot and humid, the male stops singing. Adults lose interest in things around them. All day, they sit in the dense bushes, moving only to eat and drink. It’s molting time. Those with this totem would do well to rest more in this kind of weather.

If you want mockingbirds to stick around through the winter, put out dried fruit for them. When insect fare lessens for these omnivores, firethorn berries, holly (a.k.a. winterberry) and other berries can sustain them. They can survive cold weather without migrating south if they find enough to eat. These are hardy birds, and people with this totem are the ones who can manage through tough times; however, one with this totem prefers a full larder and easy times. A National Geographic author tells how an opportunistic mocker staying at his house one winter relished dried currants and raisins, scolding loudly if there were none on the window ledge. He wanted them more than his usual caution – so much so, that he boldly hopped inside the open window to eat from a box of currents while the family watched dumbfounded a few feet away.

During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, mockingbirds were popular as pets because of their beautiful singing. By the 1900’s the demand for mockingbirds nearly led to their extinction. Fortunately, people then began to release their birds. If this bird is your totem, you may enjoy a long life if you take care of yourself. Northern mockingbirds usually have a life span of about eight years, but in captivity they may live to twenty.

Since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the law has made it illegal to kill, harm, or harass mockingbirds and other migratory birds. Signed in 1918, it’s one of the oldest protection laws on the books. That’s why it’s so heinous that the Trump administration is trying to repeal it now. If the administration has its way, the law would not be implemented as it has been for 100 years, holding people or companies accountable for killing migratory birds. In April 2018, the Interior Department issued a legal memorandum ruling that businesses that accidentally kill non-game migratory birds during their operations are not in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

This opinion is a reversal of the policies of previous administrations that prosecuted industries for killing or failing to safeguard migratory birds in their operations when they exhibited negligent behavior. For example, a person who destroys a structure such as a barn, knowing that it has a nest of baby owls would no longer be liable for killing them. The memorandum states: “all that is relevant is that the landowner undertook an action that did not have the killing of barn owls as its purpose.Oil waste pits which birds mistake for ponds are also responsible for a significant number of yearly bird deaths, yet each year 500,000 to one million birds are lost to pits that oil companies leave uncovered.

The MBTA will no longer apply, even after a catastrophic event such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that killed or injured up to a million birds. After an oil spill, The Interior Dept. would only pursue penalties under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program that is not specific to birds. In the past, the MBTA pursued claims against companies responsible for oil spills that incidentally killed or injured migratory birds. Though this is so disheartening, we can still follow mockingbird’s courage and contact our legislators to amend this.

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named Dick? Or that one of the pets in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a wooden Northern Mockingbird on a stick?

When the survey voyage of HMS Beagle visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, the naturalist Charles Darwin noticed that mockingbirds differed from island to island, and were closely allied in appearance to mockingbirds on the South American mainland (over 600 miles away). This created the first recorded expression of his doubts about species being immutable, which led to his being convinced about the transmutation of species, and that’s how he came up with the theory of evolution.

Almost every mother has sung the lullaby, Hush Little Baby to their infant. It goes like this: "Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring."

John James Audubon painted the mockingbird defending its nest against a rattlesnake.

Like Mockingbird, Orpheus, was the famed minstrel of Greek mythology who charmed all beasts, and even coaxed trees and stones to dance with his singing. He was gentle, musical, and yet fearless. He so loved his wife Eurydice, that when she was bitten by a snake and died, he himself went down to the Underworld to bring her back. Unfortunately, his faith faltered and he lost Eurydice forever.

In this age where bullying is so common, be careful to distinguish between fearlessly speaking up for yourself, and speaking down to others, or disparagingly about others. Though they are often called “mocker’s” for short, if this totem is visiting your life, be watchful that you do not spend your energies mocking others.

In The Hunger Games, fictional birds called mockingjays were created by the mating of engineered jabberjays and female mockingbirds. The mockingjay can perfectly copy the melody of human singing in a whistling tone.

And, last but not least, there’s the famous story written by Harper Lee and turned into an iconic movie about racial injustice in the south, about community, and belonging – To Kill A Mockingbird. Two of the characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it’s a sin to kill mockingbirds: "They don't do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us."

So, my friends, the next time you’re feeling low down and blue, try singing your heart out.

Part 1 of Mockingbird is in the archives after this article

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been bringing forward the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom for over 40 years, through writing, healing work, and teaching. She has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world. For 18 years, she has been a contributing writer to Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to give her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" in your area, or to buy a print or e-version of Totems for Stewards of the Earth go to CieSimurro.com, or send $22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370.

Phone: 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


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