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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: MIMIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Mockingbird Photo

If you’ve been hearing an endless string of 10 or 15 different birds singing outside your house, you might have a Northern Mockingbird in your yard. These slender-bodied gray birds apparently pour all their color into their personalities. They sing almost endlessly, even sometimes at night, and they flagrantly harass birds that intrude on their territories, flying slowly around them or prancing toward them, legs extended, flaunting their bright white wing patches.

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Keys to identification Help

Thrushlike
Thrushlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized songbird, a bit more slender than a thrush and with a longer tail. Mockingbirds have small heads, a long, thin bill with a hint of a downward curve, and long legs. Their wings are short, rounded, and broad, making the tail seem particularly long in flight.

  • Color Pattern

    Mockingbirds are overall gray-brown, paler on the breast and belly, with two white wingbars on each wing. A white patch in each wing is often visible on perched birds, and in flight these become large white flashes. The white outer tail feathers are also flashy in flight.

  • Behavior

    The Northern Mockingbird enjoys making its presence known. It usually sits conspicuously on high vegetation, fences, eaves, or telephone wires, or runs and hops along the ground. Found alone or in pairs throughout the year, mockingbirds aggressively chase off intruders on their territory.

  • Habitat

    Look for Northern Mockingbirds in towns, suburbs, backyards, parks, forest edges, and open land at low elevations.

Range Map Help

Northern Mockingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

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    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Overall gray; medium gray or brownish gray above, pale gray below
    • Long tail
    • White patch in wings (striking in flight) sometimes visible when perched
    • © JoanGeeAZ, Tucson, Arizona, October 2008
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Long tail black with white outer tail feathers
    • Medium brownish gray above
    • Wings dark with pale edging
    • © bmaltzan, Bedford, Massachusetts, October 2004
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Dark eyeline
    • Reddish brown eye
    • Short, slightly curved black bill
    • © Debbie McKenzie, Alabama, October 2004
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • White patch in wings (striking in flight) sometimes visible when perched
    • Long tail
    • © Bob Baker, Greene County, Virginia, July 2007
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Large white patches in broad wings
    • Long tail black with white outer tail feathers
    • © Bob Baker, Greene County, Virginia, July 2007
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Overall gray; medium gray or brownish gray above, pale gray below
    • White patch in wings (striking in flight) sometimes visible when perched
    • Long tail black with white outer tail feathers
    • © Sam Wilson, Arizona, December 2008
  •  

    Northern Mockingbird

     
    • Plain gray overall
    • Wings dark with pale edging
    • Long tail
    • Short, slightly curved black bill
    • © Eric Brian, Virginia, January 2009

Similar Species

  •  

    Loggerhead Shrike

     
    • Thick black mask (not just eyestripe)
    • Thick, hooked dark bill
    • Black wings with small white patches but no wingbars
    • Long, black tail with white corners
    • © Laura Erickson , Florida, December 2005
  •  

    Northern Shrike

     
    • Black mask (not just eyestripe)
    • Thick, hooked dark bill
    • Black wings with small white patches but no wingbars
    • Long, black tail with white corners
    • © Byard Miller, Keene, New Hampshire, March 2008
  •  

    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

     
    • Tiny: less than half the size of a mockingbird
    • Forages in trees like a chickadee, unlike mockingbird
    • Grayish blue above, pale grayish below
    • White eyering
    • © Byard Miller, Hinsdale, New Hampshire, May 2008
  •  

    Townsend's Solitaire

     
    • Plain gray overall (back and breast same color)
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buff patches in wings
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, December 2008
  •  

    Gray Catbird

     
    • Smooth dark gray overall
    • Darker cap
    • No white in wings
    • Rusty patch under tail
    • © Larry Meade, Springfield, Virginia, July 2008

Similar Species

Both Loggerhead Shrike and Northern Shrike have the same overall pattern as mockingbirds but have blacker wings, a bigger head, black face, and heavy, hooked bill. Gray Catbirds are much darker gray, with no white in the wings or tail. Townsend's Solitaires are birds of the mountains; they have a pale eye-ring and a small, buffy mark in the wing rather than bold wingbars. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are less than half the size of a Northern Mockingbird, with a white eyering and a tendency to flit quietly through high branches. Sage Thrashers have much less white on the wing, no white on the tail, and a pale eye.

Backyard Tips

Northern Mockingbirds are common in backyards, but they don’t often visit feeders. You can encourage mockingbirds to visit your yard by keeping an open lawn but providing fruiting trees or bushes, including mulberries, hawthorns, and blackberry brambles.

Find This Bird

Look for Northern Mockingbirds sitting high on tall shrubs, poles, or utility lines. Around your yard, you can also look for them running or hopping along your mowed lawn. You may be able to first identify the presence of a Northern Mockingbird by listening for its song which usually mimics numerous other birds at once.

Get Involved

The Northern Mockingbird is a focal species for NestWatch. Learn how to find nests and report your observations.

Enhance your yard for mockingbirds and other birds. Visit our web pages on attracting birds.

You Might Also Like

Explore sound and video recordings of Northern Mockingbirds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Northern Mockingbird from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1948)

Listen to the Mockingbird: Story in BirdScope