Senator Cornyn

A Sweet Symphony of Mockingbirds

January 23, 2024

The early bird gets the worm, but the mockingbird gets the final word. While their outward appearance may be unassuming, these skilled songbirds are the official bird of Texas for their ingenuity in using joyous tunes and talented mimicry to not only serenade Texans but also outwit unsuspecting predators.

The history of the mockingbird’s official status in Texas dates back to January 31, 1927, when the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs appealed to the 40th Texas Legislature to adopt the mockingbird as the state’s bird. The Legislature did, and Governor Dan Moody approved the measure, making Texas one of the first states to designate an official state bird. Nearly 100 years later, it’s still just as beloved today.

Scientifically known as Mimus polyglottos or many-tongued mimic, the Northern Mockingbird can imitate the calls and sounds of other birds, amphibians, and people, including whistles, sirens, and even doorbells. A male mockingbird can learn around 200 songs in its lifetime, and each imitation is repeated about three times before seamlessly transitioning to another song.

But what makes the mockingbird uniquely Texan, exactly? Well, mockingbirds are an extremely territorial species. As the Texas Legislature once put it, the mockingbird is “a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan,” according to the Texas State Historical Association. Much like General Sam Houston storming the banks of the San Jacinto River shouting, “Remember the Alamo,” these birds bravely stand as a flock, ready to confront foes and protect their nests.

This strong defense extends to their choice of perches, which they mark by asserting dominance and displaying vocal skill. Despite their modest size, mockingbirds boldly challenge snakes, ravens, hawks, and other creatures who threaten their nests. An emblem of courage and defense, the mockingbird reflects the true Texan spirit.

On the exterior, they’re recognized by their grayish-brown plumage, long tail, and white wing patches. In flight, you can catch a glimpse of bold white streaks on their wings and tail. On occasion, the mockingbird performs a “wing flash,” showcasing its white undercoat to startle their prey, fend off predators, and attract mates.

Mockingbirds primarily feed on insects, berries, and fruits. While gardens are among their favorite dwelling places, they are adaptable and can thrive in a diversity of environments, including rural and urban landscapes. Year-round, these majestic creatures grace the bustling streets of Dallas, sing through the mountains of West Texas, and soar across the prairies of the High Plains.

To Texans, the mockingbird symbolizes more than meets the eye – it embodies the resilience, beauty, and courage of the Lone Star State. Given their near-sacred status, it’s no wonder why it is against Texas law to kill a mockingbird. The next time you hear its tune, take time to relish in the beautiful melodies, deep Texas heritage, and sweet symphony of the mockingbird.