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

Tennessee is the 36th largest state by area and the 16th most populous in the United States. Tennessee has a diverse mixture of terrains and landscapes, which attract an abundant supply of wildlife. The state animal for Tennessee is the Raccoon, but what is the state bird?

The state of Tennessee chose the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus Polyglottos) as the state bird. Tennessee made it its state bird on April 19, 1933. There’s a lot of love in the US for this long-legged, medium-sized bird with its long tail. This bird tends to settle in southern states during winter.

The state bird of Tennessee, the Northern Mockingbird.

The state bird of Tennessee, the Northern Mockingbird.

Why is the Northern Mockingbird the state bird for Tennessee?

Tennessee’s government worked with the Tennessee Ornithological Society and its Garden Clubs to educate state residents about the birds of the state. After this educational initiative, the state held a vote for the public to choose. It voted for the Northern mockingbird and the legislature complied with their wishes, passing Tennessee Senate Joint Resolution No. 51 to name the bird as its official avian.

When did the Northern Mockingbird become the state bird for Tennessee?

The legislature adopted the resolution naming the bird Tennessee’s official state bird on April 19, 1933. The popular vote had been cast just days before, on April 11, 1933, according to The Nashville Banner.

Close up of a Northern Mockingbird

Close up of a Northern Mockingbird

What does the state bird of Tennessee look like?

Female Northern mockingbirds are smaller than the males of its species. Both genders resemble each other, otherwise with a grey chest and upper area and contrasting but complementary light gray 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.”

Perhaps you can attribute it to their need for suburban life in Tennessee, but the oldest known living Northern mockingbird in the state is 14 years and 10 months old.

Northern Mockingbird perched on a post during winter

Northern Mockingbird perched on a post during winter

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, which means about 20 of its setlist come from other birds, but the other 180, the bird wrote, so to speak. These studious avians also understand other animals, including dogs, and human music, including musical instruments such as the piano. The bird can also make 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.

Two Northern Mockingbirds displaying

Two Northern Mockingbirds displaying

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 the 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 Tennessee full time, others frequent Mexico or Canada. In Tennessee, scientists observed birds banded in Nashville more than 200 miles away. That’s a massive territory for an animal that doesn’t need to relocate like its Canadian counterparts.

Mockingbirds typically favor a beach or ocean setting, but those in Tennessee happily live in a landlocked environment. These birds have also had extremely rare sightings in the UK.

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.

Northern Mockingbird eating berries from a bush

Northern Mockingbird eating berries from a bush

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. Because they love to eat berries, in Tennessee, they tend to settle in suburban areas where homeowners plant berry-bearing shrubs.

For a complete guide on the diet of a Mockingbird, check out this article.

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