Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Northern mockingbird | Photo credit: Larry Smith

The Northern mockingbird has been the state bird of Texas since 1927. Their scientific name Mimus polyglottos, translates as “many-tongued mimic”, highlighting the mockingbird’s amazing talent for perfectly mimicking the songs of over three dozen bird species. Mockingbirds can also expertly reproduce the sounds of other animals, as well as some man-made devices such as musical instruments, car alarms, warning bells, and creaky hinges.

Classified as songbirds, mockingbirds measure approximately ten inches in length and are grey in color, with white patches on the wings. Mockingbirds are found throughout most of North America, including parts of Canada and Mexico; they are most abundant in the southern United States. These skilled vocalists are easily observed in open areas and near people, such as in suburban neighborhoods where they may perch on rooftops to sing. During the spring, mockingbirds–particularly unpaired males–may sing for hours on end, even during the night.

Mockingbirds are alert birds and aggressively defend their territories from small animals, humans, and other birds. Their diet is varied, consisting of primarily insects, berries, and seeds. Although not traditionally attracted to birdfeeders, mockingbirds do occasionally feed from platform feeders stocked with a mixture of millet, cracked corn, peanut chips, and sunflower seed.

Mockingbirds are abundant year-round throughout the state of Texas. Urban parks such as Canyon Lake, Friedrich Wilderness Park, and Boerne City Park/Cibolo Wilderness attract mockingbirds, as do larger natural areas such as Choke Canyon State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

Western scrub jay | Photo credit: Msulis

The Western scrub jay is a member of the Corvidae family to which various crows, ravens, and jays belong. Like its fellow corvids, the western scrub jay exhibits a loud, harsh call and enjoys a varied diet of insects, seeds, carrion, and fruit. Birdfeeders stocked with peanuts in the shell, dried corn kernels, and black oil sunflower seeds can attract these birds for leisurely viewing.

Western scrub jays measure up to eleven inches in length and are characterized by blue above with a white eyebrow and throat, a grayish-white underside, and a band of gray-brown on the back and behind the eyes. A year-round resident throughout West and Central Texas, the western scrub jay inhabits scrub oak and juniper woodlands as well as wooded suburban areas.

Often heard before they are seen, western scrub jays are easily observed throughout West Texas and the Edwards Plateau region. Parks such as Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Lost Maples State Natural Area, and Choke Canyon State Park, among others, reliably offer encounters with these vocal and attractive birds.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon on final approach | Photo credit: Paul Balfe

Nearly decimated in the 1970’s by widespread use of the pesticide DDT, the peregrine falcon population made a slow comeback as a federally-protected endangered species (it was delisted as an Endangered Species in 1998.) A relative of the eagle, peregrines are crow-sized birds of prey known for their swift and agile flight. One of the world’s fastest birds, these adept hunters take their prey “on the wing”, in flight; the peregrine’s long, slender wings can propel it to speeds up to 200 miles per hour when diving in pursuit of prey.

Peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica, enjoying the widest range of all bird species. During April, May, October, and November, peregrine falcons migrate along the Central Flyway from Canada to the Texas coast; there, the falcons spend several weeks resting and feeding in preparation for flight further south along the coast.

Songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and seabirds comprise the peregrine falcon’s diet. Peregrines usually hunt in open areas with cliffs or other high vantage points above rivers and coasts. Occasionally, peregrines may nest on bridges and buildings, as well. Peregrines measure sixteen to twenty inches long, with a wingspan up to forty-six inches. Characterized by a black head with a white neck patch and throat, a blue-gray back, and a pale white underside marked with black bars, the peregrine is a distinctive sight. Male and female peregrine falcons are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger.

Two good locations to observe peregrine falcons in Texas are Matagorda Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore. The falcons are often seen hunting above the dunes.