If youve 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.
At a Glance
Slightly larger than a Gray Catbird
Moqueur polyglotte (French)
Centzontle, Jilguero, Ruiseñor (Spanish)
Its 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
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 doesnt often seem to be successful, and
different mockingbird species do this same display even though they
dont 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
|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.
|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. Theyve been seen
drinking sap from the cuts on recently pruned trees.
Number of Broods
Pale blue or greenish white splotched with red or brown.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, blind, helpless with light gray down.
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
|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 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
|Common and widespread. Northern Mockingbirds have rebounded
from lows in the nineteenth century, when many were trapped
or taken from nests and sold as cage birds.