The northern mockingbird is a relatively unremarkable bird to look at but a spectacular one to listen to. With its amazing ability to mimic other bird songs and sounds, its scientific name polyglottos – “many tongued” – is very apt.
Northern Mockingbird, Mockingbird
- Bill: Short, dark
- Size: 10 inches long with 14-15-inch wingspan, long tail and legs
- Colors: Gray, black, white
- Markings: Male and female birds look alike with a medium gray head and back, darker wings with two thin white bars and bold white patches that are better visible in flight. The tail is dark gray or black with white outer feathers and the chest and abdomen are white or grayish-white. Birds have a faint black stripe from the bill to the eye and thin, dark legs.
Insects, fruit, berries, small animals, snakes
Habitat and Migration:
Northern mockingbirds are called “northern” because most mockingbird species reside in the tropics. This species is highly adaptable and can be found in farmland, suburban areas, forests and towns as far north as Massachusetts and Connecticut to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and along coastal California. The northern mockingbird’s territory is gradually expanding further north as food sources expand, but extreme northern populations migrate seasonally.
The northern mockingbird’s voice is its most distinctive characteristic. Not only does the bird have its own unique warbles, buzzes and chirps, but studies have found mockingbirds to mimic the calls and songs of at least 50 other birds as well as other animals, machinery and music. Calls are generally repeated 3-5 times before changing, and the complexity and variety of one bird’s calls indicate its maturity and experience. With such a repertoire, it is not unusual for these birds to sing throughout the night, particularly in bright moonlight.
These birds are generally found alone or in pairs, but they will boldly perch in open areas or forest fringes to sing. They frequently run and forage for insects on the ground and may snap their wings up quickly to startle their prey. Northern mockingbirds are very defensive of their nests and will dive, flash their wings or otherwise use threat postures to intimidate intruders.
These are monogamous birds that form long term pair bonds. The female bird will incubate a brood of 3-6 eggs for 12-13 days, and both parents will feed the nestlings for 11-13 days. Pairs can raise 2-3 broods per year.
Attracting Northern Mockingbirds:
Northern mockingbirds readily visit backyard feeders where bread scraps, suet, peanut butter, apples and raisins are available. To make the habitat even more attractive and invite the birds to sing, birders should leave brush and trees unpruned to provide ample perching areas.
- Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)
- Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
- Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)