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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.

Yard Map Attract More Birds
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Songs

Both male and female mockingbirds sing. They often mimic the sounds of birds (and frogs) around them, including shrikes, blackbirds, orioles, killdeer, jays, hawks, and many others. They go on learning new sounds throughout their lives. The song is a long series of phrases, with each phrase repeated 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound; the songs can go on for 20 seconds or more. Many of the phrases are whistled, but mockingbirds also make sharp rasps, scolds, and trills. Unmated males are the most insistent singers, carrying on late all day and late into the night. Brown Thrashers have a similar song, but the phrases are less varied and most are delivered just 2-3 times. Gray Catbirds can also sound similar, but their phrases are more nasal, hurried, and slurred.

Calls

Northern Mockingbirds make a harsh, dry chew or hew when mobbing nest predators or chasing other mockingbirds. Mates exchange a softer version of this call during incubation and nestling periods, or when the female leaves the nest while incubating. Mockingbirds also make a series of 2-8 short, scratchy chat calls to warn off intruders. Females make a single chat when disturbed.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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