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Will the Real Mockingjay Please Fly Forward

Updated on July 7, 2015
Sherry Thornburg profile image

Writer, photographer and birding enthusiast, Sherry Thornburg writes about birding and birding related topics.

Mockingjay Book Cover

Source

Movie Birds, The Mockingjay

Having young teens will get a parent caught up in teen movies and books. This has happened several times for me from Ms. Rowlings’ Harry Potter to the Thunder Clan cats in Warriors by Erin Hunter. I can get into the books much more than movies, but either way, I find myself immersed in the stories.

When the Hunger Games movies came along, I agreed to take my son, which usually ends up meaning I see the movie too. As I watched, I realized that the premise had been done plenty before, but the writers and actors managed to keep my attention anyway. We later saw Hunger Games Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1.

In the last movie, the birder in me became intrigued. They showed a live Mockingjay flock moving through the trees around a river near District 12. I perked up. “I know that bird.”

The recognition caused me to get into the internet to hunt for a picture of the bird being used for the movie, but none were available.

Movie Bird Identification

According to the Hunger Games Wiki page The Mockingjay is a hybrid of Mockingbirds and Jabberjays. The wild birds were supposedly created through wild crossbreeding.

"The jabberjays - all male - were initially created to eavesdrop on the rebels in the Dark Days, memorizing entire conversations and repeating them back at the Capitol. Once they were discovered, the rebels fed endless lies to the birds, and sent them back loaded with false information. After the lies were discovered, the Capitol closed the laboratories and the jabberjays were released into the wild, in the hope that they would die off.

They did, eventually, but not before they passed on their genetic code to female mockingbirds. This was unforeseen, because no one expected them to be able to reproduce with other bird species. The offspring were called mockingjays, and, while they had lost the ability to memorize words, they could mimic any sounds from a child's high-pitched warble to a man's deep tones, and even songs with multiple verses, if you had the patience to sing to them."

That’s the Hunger Games explanation. The bird became the rebel symbol because of its inability to be controlled by the government.

Plainopepla

Plainopepla at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona
Plainopepla at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Arizona | Source

Was It Real or Not

The bird shown in the Hunger Games Mockingjay appeared to be real in several of its close-ups. Though I can’t find a single reference for the bird species used in the movie; the scene by the river showed a bird flock that some would say looked like black Blue Jays or Cardinals. As this scene was filmed in Georgia, the flock was likely an electronic add in. Yet, from what I saw, the bird they used looked like a Phainopepla.

The Phainopepla, is a bird with an all-black body and long tail and tall crest. The bird is common to arid scrub areas in southwestern states such as lower California, New Mexico Nevada, Arizona and the Trans Pecos region of Texas. The Phainopeple is of the family Ptilogonatidae or silky flycatcher. Its species name is Phainopepla nitens. They are the farthest northern ranging member of their family, which are mostly found in South America.

In flight, the males show white wing patches. The females have dark wings and tails, but their bodies are gray. Males out number females, and their musical repartee is limited.

The idea of a genetically created bird mating with wild Mockingbirds and the result looking like a Phainopepla is . . . well, odd. To explain this, you have to go back to your science classes and the classification of animals.


Phainopepla Singing by thenaturegeek

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird, the mother of the Mockingjay
Northern Mockingbird, the mother of the Mockingjay | Source

That Bird Can’t Possibly Exist as Written

All birds are part of the Aves class. They are then split into 23 orders. Both Mockingbirds and Phainopeplas are part of the Passerifornes order, which means perching birds. This is where their similarities end.

Further classification on the family level shows that the Northern Mockingbird’s are Mimidae family. Their full species name is Mimus polygolttos which means “many-tongued mimic.” This sounds good for the book’s purposes as the Jabberjay is an extraordinary mimic, and everyone knows that Mockingbirds think they are the baddest bird around. Yet, it would not get a bird that looks like a Phainopeple. Further, there are no mimids with crests.

Animals like dogs and domestic cats all belong to the same species; so a Beagle is a Hound Dog is a Labrador and a Tabby is a Persian is a Calico. They can interbreed without much trouble. Their differences are just that, the result of selective breeding to obtain size, coat and behavioral differences.

According to a Wildbirds Unlimited blogger in Michigan, “there are about 10,000 species of birds.” So the difference between the Northern Mockingbird and Phainopepla is similar to the difference between a gecko and rattlesnake.


Mockingbird Mating Calls by Raoul Pop

Bird Mating Preferences

Birds have a strong ability to recognize their own species based on song, coloring and behavior and courtship displays. It is possible for closely related bird species to interbreed and produce hybrids. One example is the Baltimore Oriole which can hybridize with the Bullock's Oriole where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains. It is a major reach, however, to suggest that birds from different families would hybridize in the wild.

Reasons

  1. The Mockingbird and the Phainopepla have very different plumage.
  2. Their mating calls are miles apart. The Mockingbird is known for a wide ranging complicated song style while the Phainopepla calls are limited to a low liquid (wurp) sound and short warbles. Check out the two videos of these birds mating calls and you will see what I mean.

A female Mockingbird might be impressed by the song quality of the Jabberjay, but birds of a feather flock together, as the old rhyme goes. The differences in plumage would end any attraction.

Common Hill Myna

The Common Hill Myna can be found in Southeast Asia and India.
The Common Hill Myna can be found in Southeast Asia and India. | Source

So What was the Jabberjay?

There are birds that can mimic human voices. They are Parrots, Parakeets and Myna birds. Those are nothing remotely resembling a Mockingjay. So, all we can assume is a that Jabberjays were laboratory creations. Most likely the experimentation started with a Common Hill Myna.

The Common Hill Myna might have then been gene spliced with the Plainopepla to get that silky feather and body type without damaging the vocal range. This would dress the bird up to make it more aesthetically pleasing, thus more likely for people to not care if it hung around listening to conversations.

Conversation with a Myna Bird

Too Much Suspension of Disbelief

None of this gets us a bird that would be acceptable to a female Mockingbird, or that could successfully mate with one, but there is only so much reality one can insert when dealing with fictional material.

Having a literal-minded attitude makes dealing with fiction difficult in this instance because, with a little research and consideration; one could have come up with a bird that would work with less need for suspension of disbelief.

How It Could Have Been Done - I might have just started out with a Mockingbird and then enhanced its vocal abilities by gene splicing Myna bird DNA. Yeah, that would have done it. Then you would have a bird that was the right species, the right temperament and the vocal abilities to do what it was supposed to. Plus, there would be no problem with it choosing a female Mockingbird to mother its progeny. There, no need for a crested black bird at all.

© 2015 Sherry Thornburg

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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What a great idea for a hub! This is a very interesting and enjoyable analysis. It's educational as well.

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