The official Arkansas State Bird is the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). A total of five states have chosen the Northern Mockingbird as their official State Bird. An effort led by the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs promoted the species. The legislature adopted the Northern Mockingbird as the Arkansas State Bird by resolution on March 5, 1929. Arkansas became the third out of five states to choose this species as their state bird.
The following states also selected the Northern Mockingbird as their State Bird: Texas and Florida, both in 1927, Tennessee in 1933, and Mississippi in 1944. The Northern Mockingbird is currently the third most popular state bird in the United States. The most popular, the Northern Cardinal, represents seven states, and the Western Meadowlark represents six.
Sports fans may find the following fact quite interesting. Exactly half the teams from the NCAA Southeastern Conference, including the University of Arkansas, come from states that currently hold the Northern Mockingbird as their official State Bird. This ratio will remain the same even following the 2024 expansion of the SEC, unless one or more states change their state bird, as some in both Arkansas and Florida have proposed.
Where Does the State Bird of Arkansas Live?
Arkansas, known as the Natural State, has a wide array of habitats suitable for the Northern Mockingbird. From the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita ranges to the agriculturally rich delta region, Northern Mockingbirds make their homes. They live in habitats from swamps and wetlands to ancient coastal plains and the edges of rich forests. These highly adaptable birds range all over the state of Arkansas.. Their range, in fact, extends over the entire continental United States, southern Canada, and much of Mexico and the Caribbean. The Northern Mockingbird, one of 14 known species of mockingbirds, has the northernmost range. The Northern Mockingbird population in Arkansas does not migrate. These permanent residents stick closely to the same place all year round.
Northern Mockingbirds live in a variety of habitats. They prefer to stick to forest edges rather than live deep within dense forests. They can be found living in farmland, wild spaces, and even urban areas. They hang out along fencerows and in grasslands with shrubs and thickets. They frequent farms with open pastures and nearby wooded areas. And they reside in parks and neighborhoods, especially with abundant berry-producing shrubs, bushes, or trees.
Northern Mockingbirds tend to prefer sparse trees open areas with access to shrubs, hedges, or other cover. They live successfully in rural and remote areas as suburban or urban settings. Northern Mockingbirds tolerate human populations exceptionally well. People often spot these birds sitting in high places as they hunt for food. Many bird watchers love Northern Mockingbirds for their beautiful singing.
What Does the State Bird of Arkansas Eat?
Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores that farmers in Arkansas consider helpful. They eat many types of insects, including beetles, ants, grasshoppers, wasps, and others. They also eat other invertebrates, spiders, earthworms, crustaceans, snails, and even small lizards. They consume seeds, mainly from undesirable weeds, until the colder months. During the fall and winter, they begin to eat berries and other fruits, both wild and cultivated.
Northern Mockingbirds will eat from feeders, but they prefer suet, fruits, and mealworms over seeds. They do not commonly eat seeds from feeders. However, if a feeder is placed too close to a mockingbird’s territory, it may aggressively chase other birds away.
Where Do Northern Mockingbirds Nest?
As the State Bird of Arkansas, the Northern Mockingbird can find plenty of suitable nest sites all around the Natural State. The breeding season in Arkansas begins in late March and stretches into late summer. Northern Mockingbirds form generally monogamous pairs for at least a season, and sometimes for life. They may produce as many as four broods in one season. Each clutch will contain between three to five eggs.
Male and female Northern Mockingbirds work together to build a cup shaped nest. They locate their nest low in a tree or in a shrub, usually less than 10 feet above the ground. They may, however, occasionally build their nests much higher. Northern Mockingbirds construct their nest with twigs and line it with softer materials, including grasses, rootlets, and dead leaves.
Northern Mockingbird Eggs
Northern Mockingbirds may produce up to four clutches per year, with each clutch averaging three to five eggs. The eggs of this species vary in color, from blueish to greenish. They have dark, reddish-brown speckles. Females incubate the eggs alone for about 12 to 13 days. After that, both parents help care for the nestlings until they leave the nest in another 12 days.
What Do Northern Mockingbirds Look Like?
Birders can easily recognize The State Bird of Arkansas. Northern Mockingbirds rank among the larger songbirds of North America, reaching lengths of up to 10 inches. They have gray plumage above with white below. They have a sleek appearance, owing largely to their long, pointed bills and their long tails. Their dark gray wings featuring two white wing bars can reach a wingspan up to 14 inches. The wing bars are prominent during flight. The species also often flashes their patterned wings in defensive displays.
Northern Mockingbirds frequently sing. Males mimic everything from other birds to machinery, and they can build a repertoire of up to 200 different songs. Northern Mockingbird males sing more often than females, and unmated males will often sing through the night, especially during mating season. Experts say the best way to get an overly vocal male mockingbird to stop singing at night is to draw a female to the area. Keeping the lights down low may also help to discourage nighttime singing, although the effect may be minimal.
Are Northern Mockingbirds Rare?
The Northern Mockingbird has a stable population throughout its range. It is common throughout its vast range, from far southern Canada through the entire continental United States, much of Mexico and the Caribbean. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorizes the Northern Mockingbird as a species of least concern.
The Northern Mockingbird’s range is not highly fragmented, and it has extended significantly to the north in recent decades. This expansion in the range of the species may be due to the effects of climate change. The Northern Mockingbird adapts well to many different types of habitats, including urban and suburban areas. The State Bird of Arkansas, a permanent resident throughout its distribution, is neither rare nor threatened within its home range.
Possible Change of Arkansas State Bird
In 2023, two legislators proposed bills to change the Arkansas State Bird from the Northern Mockingbird to another species. One legislator proposed the Painted Bunting, or really any other bird the legislature would like to consider. Another proposed the Mallard Duck, due to the impact duck hunting has in the state. Both legislators indicated a desire to move away from the Northern Mockingbird, mainly because it is the state symbol for five southern states, and they believe Arkansas should have a unique bird instead. Neither bill was passed, but the legislators plan to try again.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com
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