The mockingjay is a species of bird that was created through the accidental mating of jabberjays and mockingbirds. 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 created essentially 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 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 you 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 sign 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 (Katniss, her father, and Rue are such people).
In the orchards of District 11, the first worker to see the flag that signals quitting time whistles a four-note tune. The local mockingjays then begin to spread the notes, passing the message along to all the workers. The simple melody is ingeniously designed to harmonize with itself as the different voices singing it overlap. Rue practiced this, and may have even begun it.
It is not known exactly how widespread mockingjays are throughout Panem. Katniss describes them as being "rare as rocks", hinting 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:
- District 11, in the orchards. Rue is said in the book to tell Katniss that they are a way of communicating through the orchards in District 11.
- District 13
- Outside District 12's borders
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.
Symbol of rebellionMockingjays have a certain level of symbolism in Panem, though the nature of that symbolism can vary significantly. For Katniss, they are a reminder of her father, and later of Rue. Katniss also refers to the birds as "something of a slap in the face to the Capitol"; 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.
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.
In the Capitol, mockingjays have several distinctive meanings. 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 arena in the 75th Hunger Games.
Also following the 74th Hunger Games, mockingjays became a 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 a sign of rebellion to the Capitol — whether or not the wearer means any harm. In 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.