Tennessee’s State Bird: The Mockingbird
An ashy bird catches your eye as she flits through the shrubbery. Her chest is pale white; her back is deep grey. Her wings are dark with bright accents, and her face features a bandit stripe between her amber eyes. This bird is a northern mockingbird who inhabits much of the southern United States and northern Central America.
Mockingbirds have a rich history in North America. From the late 1700s to the early 1900s, these avians were captured as cage-bird pets. The most revered songbirds could be sold for as much as $50 in 1828; that is equivalent to $1,347.85 in today’s money! The species nearly disappeared from its northern range due to their high demand. When the pet trade diminished, the birds began populating the continent once more. Now, they can be found as far north as Maine! The state of Tennessee understood this bird as a true resident, so the northern mockingbird was designated as Tennessee’s state bird in 1933.
Mockingbirds are widely known for their song, which is made up of a series of short phrases. Many phrases are imitations of sounds the mockingbirds hear, such as other birds or cars. They continue learning new songs throughout their lives; males can build portfolios of 200 songs throughout their lifetime! Both males and females sing, but males are louder than their female counterparts. Males sing all day long during nesting season; some even carry their music into the night. Along with their song, these birds are noted for their showy character.
Territory is a major concern for mockingbirds. These birds are aggressive when protecting their property. A bird who ventures too close into one’s territory will be harassed. The mockingbird will fly around the intruder or show off fancy feathers in persuading it to leave. Nests give mockingbirds all the more incentive to be bold; some birds attack even people who get too close to one’s nest.
Courtship begins early for mockingbirds. Males sing to attract a mate; sometimes, they fly while singing. If the male is chosen, the couple will chase each other around their territory. Nests are constructed into dense shrubs or trees, usually at low heights of 3 to 10 feet. Mockingbirds eggs are blue to green in color with brown splotches. Suburbia is a favorite place for mockingbirds to settle down.
Mockingbirds are often found in towns and cities. They are attracted to thick, low-lying shrubs and open ground; many suburban lawns act as a perfect spot for them! Mockingbirds can also be found at forest edges, farms, desert thickets, and canyon springs. Insects on the ground are the mockingbird’s preferred food choice, so this bird is rarely found at feeders. Their diet often consists of half insects, half fruits and berries.
Mockingbirds are unique creatures. Despite their dull feathers, they are flashy in personality. Their mimicking song has brought conflict with songbird trade in the past, but now the mockingbird’s song is properly used for territorial needs. Mockingbirds are common beauties of North America.