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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
8.3–10.2 in
21–26 cm
Wingspan
12.2–13.8 in
31–35 cm
Weight
1.6–2 oz
45–58 g
Relative Size
Slightly larger than a Gray Catbird
Other Names
  • Moqueur polyglotte (French)
  • centzontle, jilguero, ruiseñor (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • It’s not just other mockingbirds that appreciate a good song. In the nineteenth century, people kept so many mockingbirds as cage birds that the birds nearly vanished from parts of the East Coast. People took nestlings out of nests or trapped adults and sold them in cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, and New York, where, in 1828, extraordinary singers could fetch as much as $50.
  • Northern Mockingbirds continue to add new sounds to their repertoires throughout their lives. A male may learn around 200 songs throughout its life.
  • The Northern Mockingbird frequently gives a "wing flash" display, where it half or fully opens its wings in jerky intermediate steps, showing off the big white patches. No one knows why it does this, but it may startle insects, making them easier to catch. On the other hand, it doesn’t often seem to be successful, and different mockingbird species do this same display even though they don’t have white wing patches.
  • Northern Mockingbirds sing all through the day, and often into the night. Most nocturnal singers are unmated males, which sing more than mated males during the day, too. Nighttime singing is more common during the full moon.
  • Northern Mockingbirds typically sing from February through August, and again from September to early November. A male may have two distinct repertoires of songs: one for spring and another for fall.
  • The female Northern Mockingbird sings too, although usually more quietly than the male does. She rarely sings in the summer, and usually only when the male is away from the territory. She sings more in the fall, perhaps to establish a winter territory.
  • The oldest Northern Mockingbird on record was 14 years and 10 months old.

Habitat


Town

Year-round the Northern Mockingbird is found in areas with open ground and with shrubby vegetation like hedges, fruiting bushes, and thickets. When foraging on the ground, it prefers grassy areas, rather than bare spots. Common places to find Northern Mockingbirds include parkland, cultivated land, suburban areas and in second growth habitat at low elevations.

Food


Omnivore

Northern Mockingbirds eat mainly insects in summer but switch to eating mostly fruit in fall and winter. Among their animal prey are beetles, earthworms, moths, butterflies, ants, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, and sometimes small lizards. They eat a wide variety of berries, including from ornamental bushes, as well as fruits from multiflora rose. They’ve been seen drinking sap from the cuts on recently pruned trees.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–6 eggs
Number of Broods
2-3 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1.1 in
2–2.9 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.8 in
1.6–2 cm
Incubation Period
12–13 days
Nestling Period
12–13 days
Egg Description
Pale blue or greenish white splotched with red or brown.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, blind, helpless with light gray down.
Nest Description

Mockingbird nests consist of dead twigs shaped into an open cup, lined with grasses, rootlets, leaves, and trash, sometimes including bits of plastic, aluminum foil, and shredded cigarette filters. The male constructs the twig foundation while the female makes most of the lining.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Northern Mockingbirds nest in shrubs and trees, typically 3-10 feet off the ground but sometimes as high as 60 feet. The male probably chooses the nest site and begins building several nests before the female chooses one to finish and lay eggs in. Females may start laying in a second nest while the male is still caring for fledglings from the previous one. Northern Mockingbirds rarely ever reuse their nests.

Northern Mockingbird Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

Northern Mockingbird Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Ground Forager

Northern Mockingbirds are found alone or in pairs throughout the year. They make themselves easily visible, sitting and singing atop shrubs, trees, utility lines, fences, and poles. On the ground they walk, run, and hop along the ground, tail cocked upwards, grabbing at prey on the ground or snatching insects just over the grass. Mockingbirds sometimes fly up and hover to grab at hanging fruit. The Northern Mockingbird is aggressive throughout the year. Females typically fend off other female mockingbirds, while males confront male intruders. Males disputing territory boundaries fly toward each other, land near the boundary, and face off, silently hopping from one side to another. Eventually, one bird retreats and the other chases it a short ways. If neither bird retreats, they may fly at each other, grappling with wings and claws and pecking at each other. Mockingbirds are also territorial around other bird species as well as dogs and cats. The flight style of mockingbirds is variable but typically leisurely, with showy wingbeats. Sometimes Northern Mockingbirds simply drop quickly from a perch with their wings folded.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Northern Mockingbird populations declined by about 20 percent from 1966 to 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 32 million with 83 percent in the U.S., 16 percent in Mexico, and 6 percent in Canada. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Despite losses, Northern Mockingbirds are common and widespread and have rebounded from lows in the nineteenth century, when many were trapped or taken from nests and sold as cage birds.

Credits

Range Map Help

Northern Mockingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident.

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