The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is a gray, long-tailed bird with white outer tail feathers and white wing patches that flash conspicuously in flight. This widely distributed North American species breeds from California, Colorado, Iowa, and Ontario south to the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and southern Mexico. They have also been introduced and established in the Hawaiian Islands (main islands from Kauai eastward) and in Bermuda. Northern Mockingbirds are found in a variety of open and semi-open situations, especially in scrub, thickets, and gardens and in towns and cities and around cultivated areas.
Northern Mockingbirds sing a mix of original and imitative phrases, each repeated several times. They may imitate the songs of a wide variety of other birds' songs and calls, sometimes in rapid succession, as well as other sounds. They often sing at night as well as during the day. Both sexes sing in fall as they claim feeding territories. The often heard call is a loud, sharp check.
The diet of the Northern Mockingbird consists mostly of insects and berries. The annual diet is around half insects and other arthropods and half berries and other fruits, but the diet is heavy on insects in late spring and summer and in fruits in fall and winter.
Nesting begins early in the year, by late winter in the southern United States. The male sings to defend his territory and attract a mate, often leaping a meter in the air and flapping his wings while singing. Early courtship involves the male and female chasing each other around the male's territory. The nest is placed in a dense tree or shrub, typically one to three meters above the ground, but sometimes lower or higher (rarely up to 18 m). The nest has a bulky foundation of twigs supporting an open cup of weeds, grass, and leaves lined with fine material such as rootlets, moss, animal hair, and plant down. The male builds most of the foundation and the female adds most of the lining. Typical clutch size is 3 to 4 eggs (sometimes as few as 2 or as many as 6). Egg color ranges from greenish to bluish gray, with blotches of brown usually concentrated at the larger end. Eggs are incubated (by the female alone) for 12 to 13 days. Both parents feed the nestlings, which leave the nest around 12 days after hatching but are not able to fly well for another week or so. Northern Mockingbirds may produce two to three clutches per year.
Northern Mockingbirds were often captured for sale as pets from the late 1700s to the early 1900s and possibly as a result became scarce along much of the northern edge of their range. With the end of the cagebird trade, the Northern Mockingbird became more common in many areas. In recent decades, this species has expanded its range northward, especially in the northeast, possibly as a consequence of the widespread planting of multiflora rose (an excellent source of both food and nesting sites) and a changing climate.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Dunn, J.L. and J. Alderfer. 2011. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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