- "A mockingjay's a bona fide bird."
"And it sings in your show?"
"Not my show, sweetheart. Yours. The Capitol's anyway."
- ―Lucy Gray Baird and Coriolanus Snow[src]
The mockingjay is a species of bird that was created through the accidental mating of jabberjays and mockingbirds. Black in color with white patches on the undersides of their wings, Mockingjays are famous for their ability to mimic a wide range of sounds produced by humans. When Katniss Everdeen wore a pin bearing an image of this bird in the 74th Hunger Games, it angered the Capitol; the bird's very existence was a result of a mistake on the Capitol's part, and it represented a slight against them. This association with the bird later caused Katniss to be dubbed "The Mockingjay", the symbol and leader of the Second Rebellion.
Mockingjays were essentially created by accident. The father of the species was the jabberjay, a breed of exclusively male birds that were created as muttations by the Capitol. Initially created to eavesdrop on rebels during the Dark Days, jabberjays had the ability to memorize entire conversations and repeat them back to their Capitol handlers. However, once the rebels realized this, they simply fed endless lies to the birds, and sent them back loaded with false information. After the lies were discovered, the Capitol shut down the operation and the jabberjays were released into the wild, in the hope that they would die off. Eventually, they did die off, but not before passing on their genetic code by mating with female mockingbirds. This was unforeseen, because no one expected the jabberjays to be able to reproduce with other bird species. The offspring were called mockingjays, and while they lost the ability to memorize and enunciate words, they could mimic any vocal sounds from a child's high-pitched warble to a man's deep tones. They could even whistle the melodies of songs with multiple verses, if one had the patience to sing to them. Katniss' father was one of those people, and Peeta claims that when he first heard Katniss sing, all of the birds, including mockingjays, fell silent, the implication being that they liked what was being sung. The mockingjay is so important to Katniss because her father had a special bond with them, and so did Rue.
Like their jabberjay fathers, mockingjays are excellent mimics, and have the ability to memorize and repeat both bird sounds and human songs. They can perfectly copy any human tune, down to the last note. They pick up tunes quickly, and often spread them to other nearby mockingjays. However, they will only repeat songs if they enjoy the singer's voice.
In the orchards of District 11, Rue was typically first to see the flag that signaled quitting time for the day. Upon seeing it, she would whistle a four-note tune that would be picked up by local mockingjays and spread to all the workers.
It is not known exactly how widespread mockingjays are throughout Panem. Katniss describes them as being "rare as rocks", suggesting that they are very common. She also claims that they are "about as tough" as rocks, being able to thrive in almost any environment. Specific locations where the birds are found include:
In the 74th Hunger Games, there were mockingjays in the arena. Rue and Katniss used them to send a signal to each other saying they were alright.
When assigned to the Peacekeepers in District 12, following the 10th Hunger Games, Coriolanus Snow joined a group which went on an excursion to a distant pond. There, he observed mockingjays in the trees but no jabberjays and took it as a sign that the birds were reproducing without them, something which disturbed him greatly, as they were multiplying like rabbits, unchecked by the Capitol.
Mockingjays have a certain level of symbolism in Panem, though the nature of that symbolism can vary widely:
Upon realizing that the bird on her pin is a mockingjay, Katniss refers to the birds as "something of a slap in the face to the Capitol". Interestingly, this musing came before the 74th Hunger Games competition actually began, which suggests that the "rebellious" symbolism of the mockingjay was already established - or at least implied - before Katniss even arrived on the scene.
Following the 74th Hunger Games, largely because of Katniss, mockingjays became a widespread symbol of rebellion in the districts. While out in the woods, Katniss encountered two women from District 8, Bonnie and Twill, who were rebels on a journey to District 13. Although 13 was commonly believed to have been destroyed by the Capitol 75 years earlier, the women noticed that the exact same mockingjay appeared in many commercials and newsreels about the district, proving that the footage had faked. To gain Katniss’ trust, they showed her a flat piece of bread that had been stamped with the image of a mockingjay (a sign that they were on her side and wanted to fight). At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss realizes that, by her own volition or not, she is “the Mockingjay”, a living symbol of defiance against the Capitol and a rallying point for the oppressed people of Panem.
After the 75th Hunger Games, wearing a mockingjay symbol in any form is considered a sign of rebellion by the Capitol — whether or not the wearer intended any harm. In the film Mockingjay- Part 1, President Snow banned any references to the Mockingjay symbol or association with Katniss Everdeen, on pain of death. During his speech, Snow's granddaughter, who was in the room with him, can be seen unbraiding her hair, as it was inspired by Katniss’ distinctive look.
The mockingjay pin that Madge Undersee gave to Katniss originally belonged to Madge's aunt, Maysilee Donner, who died in the 50th Hunger Games. For Madge, the bird and pin could symbolize remembrance, a relic from a relative that she was never able to know. Katniss wore the pin as her token in both the 74th and 75th Hunger Games, to represent District 12 and remind her of home. For Katniss herself, the birds are a reminder of her father, and later of Rue.
In the Capitol
Mockingjays have several distinctive meanings for Capitol citizens. On the one hand, they are a reminder of past mistakes, of the tricks played by the rebels and the Capitol's failure in killing off their own creation of jabberjays. In a scene ultimately deleted from the Catching Fire film, President Snow explains to Plutarch Heavensbee that the mockingjays were something that should never have existed, and applies this same status to Katniss' and Peeta's co-victory. On the other hand, following the 74th Hunger Games, images of mockingjays similar Katniss’ pin were all the rage in the Capitol, seen as jewelry, fashion components, and tattoos. Everyone wanted to remember a particularly exciting Hunger Games by wearing the winner's token (Katniss mused that this use and popularity of the symbol must drive President Snow crazy). Plutarch even had a watch whose crystal face bore an image a mockingjay, but the image was only visible when exposed in a certain way, underlying Plutarch’s secret connection to rebel forces. He showed this to Katniss not only to hint that he was on her side, but also to hint the nature of the arena in the 75th Hunger Games.
Lucy Gray Baird told Coriolanus Snow, "The show is not over until the mockingjay sings."
- Catching Fire, Chapter 7
- The Hunger Games, Chapter 16
- Catching Fire, Chapter 10
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Chapter 27
- The Hunger Games, Chapter 3