What is the State Bird of Arkansas? (And Why?)

Arkansas is the 29th largest state by area and the 33rd most populous state in the United States known for its hiking routes and abundance of wildlife. The state animal for Arkansas is the white-tailed deer, but what is the state bird?

The state of Arkansas chose the Northern mockingbird (Mimus Polyglottos) as the state bird, just as Texas did. Arkansas made it its state bird on March 5, 1929. There’s a lot of love in the US for this long-legged, medium-sized bird with its long tail that tends to settle in southern states during winter.

Northern Mockingbird perched in a tree

Northern Mockingbird perched in a tree

Why is the Northern mockingbird the state bird for Arkansas?

Arkansas recognized the hard work of the mockingbird due to the publicity and lobbying efforts of the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs (AFWC), who worked to protect many bird species in Arkansas. An address at one of their 1903 meetings by ornithologist William Dutcher alerted them to the economic value of the mockingbird, which eats bugs and weed seeds. Its helpfulness to farmers in the state and its gorgeous song won it the love of its state’s residents.

When did the Northern mockingbird become the state bird for Arkansas?

Recognizing its inherent value and gorgeous songs, the AFWC capitalized on a court case in the state prosecuting a man in illegal possession of a caged mockingbird. Although he only needed to pay a fine and release the bird, it provided publicity leverage for the AFWC to lobby the Arkansas legislature to make the mockingbird the state bird, which it did in 1929. It shares the Northern mockingbird as a state bird with Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Northern Mockingbird eating berries

Northern Mockingbird eating berries

What does the state bird of Arkansas look like?

Females of the Northern mockingbird are smaller than the males of its species. Both genders resemble each other, otherwise with a grey chest and upper area and contrasting but complimentary light grey or white color on their stomach areas. The bills of these birds feature brown at the base and black all over.

Although long and with a wide wingspan, these birds weigh little. They typically grow to between 1.4 ounces and 2.0 ounces. The Northern mockingbird measures eight to 11 inches from its head to tail with a wingspan of 12 to 15 inches.

Because living in captivity shortens their lifespan remarkably, the US made it illegal to keep a mockingbird as a pet. Living in the wild, a mockingbird can live 80 years, but in captivity, they can only live one-quarter of that time. Title 16 of the US Code, sections 703 and 707a, make it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess… at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird… or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird.”

Northern Mockingbird in flight

Northern Mockingbird in flight

How do these birds behave?

People misunderstand the mockingbird’s songs. Typically, when surveyed, people think that the bird only copies others’ songs, but in reality, only ten percent of their repertoire. While a mockingbird can mimic the songs of other birds, the intelligent bird also composes original music. Since the average mockingbird performs more than 200 melodies, that means about 20 of its setlist come from other birds, but the other 180, the bird wrote, so to speak. This studious avian also understands other animals, including dogs, and human music, including musical instruments such as the piano. The bird can also copy urban noises like sirens and gates. The mockingbird decides whether to make up a song based on the sound by repeating the sound a few times. If, after imitating it, the sound resounds with the bird, they’ll write an original melody based upon it.

Unlike many birds who sing in the early morning, the mockingbird keeps company with night owls. The mockingbird sings during the night. During springtime, the birds favor putting on concerts in the moonlight.

You won’t hear the same mix from a mockingbird either. These birds string together a different playlist each day. This medley might include only part or all of its repertoire. You could mistake the mockingbird’s song for another bird if you can’t see it performing. Since each bird composes its own songs, every bird’s medley differs.

Mockingbirds date. They meet potential mates by singing. They date a few different birds until they meet the right one, then the two birds partner. You could think of it as marriage, because this animal remains mated for life and monogamous. Together, they build a nest of twigs, grass, sticks, and leaves. Once they’ve built their home, the birds breed. They raise their baby birds to follow the same patterns.

Northern Mockingbird perched on a branch in winter

Northern Mockingbird perched on a branch in winter

Do Northern mockingbirds form communities?

Mockingbirds consider their nest their territory and they’re hugely territorial. They protect their nests by swooping down to attack or at least chase off any predator. These birds view humans and their pets as predators. Mockingbirds will attack animals much larger than themselves, including dogs and cats. As long as you keep away from their nest, you won’t have problems. Just enjoy their songs from afar. A mockingbird remembers both humans and the animals it sees. Don’t anger one or you’ll make an enemy for life.

While some of these birds reside in Arkansas full time, others frequent Mexico or Canada. Mockingbirds favor a beach or ocean setting. Those who live in maritime Canada travel south for winter. These birds also live in Great Britain, another natural habitat for them. Look for them in open areas in the city or in rural environments. You won’t find them in the forest. The preference of the Northern mockingbird is to live the entire year in the same habitat, so if the area remains warm, they won’t fly further south.

What do Northern mockingbirds eat?

Mockingbirds like fruits and seeds, but which varieties of these vary depending on the location. Their diet also varies seasonally. These birds also eat berries and small insects. Few people think of birds as carnivores, but the mockingbird dines on beetles, moths, and earthworms.

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