Overview

Brief Summary

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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Distribution

Geographic Range

Northern mockingbirds are distributed throughout North America, including Canada and Mexico. In fact, sightings have been reported as far off the coast as Hawaii (where they were introduced). However, northern mockingbirds are most commonly found in the southern regions of the United States and are most often sighted in Texas and Southern Florida. They breed from northern California, eastern Nebraska, southern Ontario and Atlantic Canada southward to southern Mexico.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

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Global Range: Resident regularly from northern California and eastern Oregon to South Dakota, northern Ohio, and southern New England (sporatically or locally north to southern Canada), south to southern Baja California, southern Mexico, Gulf Coast, southern Florida, and western West Indies (including Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands). First known successful nesting in British Columbia occurred in 1993 (MacKenzie et al. 1995, Canadian Field-Naturalist 109:260). Introduced and established in Hawaii, Bermuda.

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Geographic Range

Northern mockingbirds live throughout North America, including Canada and Mexico. They are most common in the southern United States, especially in Texas and Florida. They breed from northern California, eastern Nebraska, southern Ontario and Atlantic Canada to southern Mexico.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Northern mockingbirds are medium-sized birds. They have long tails, and short, rounded wings. Males are larger than females. Males are 22 to 25.5 cm long and weigh about 51 g. Females are 20.8 to 23.5 cm long and weigh about 47 g. Northern mockingbirds are gray-brown on top and light gray underneath. They have a large white patch on each wing and white outer tail feathers that are easy to spot when they fly. Their bills are black and curved a little bit downward. Young northern mockingbirds look similar to adults, but they have brown spots on their underparts.

Range mass: 47 to 51 g.

Range length: 20.8 to 25.5 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently

  • Derrickson, K., R. Breitwisch. 1992. Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). Pp. 1-24 in A Poole, P Stettenheim, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 7. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists Union.
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Physical Description

Northern mockingbirds are medium-sized birds with long legs and tails, and short, rounded wings. Males are larger than females, ranging from about 22 to 25.5 cm in length and averaging 51 g. Females range from 20.8 to 23.5 cm long and weigh an average of 47 g. Northern mockingbirds have gray-brown upperparts, with a large white patch on each wing and white outer retrices that are conspicuous in flight. Their black bills are long and somewhat decurved. Males and females are similar in appearance, with the exception of difference in size and slightly darker tail feathers on females. Juveniles are similar to adults, but have brown spots on their underparts.

Range mass: 47 to 51 g.

Range length: 20.8 to 25.5 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently

  • Derrickson, K., R. Breitwisch. 1992. Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). Pp. 1-24 in A Poole, P Stettenheim, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 7. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists Union.
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Size

Length: 25 cm

Weight: 49 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Various open and partly open situations from areas of scattered brush or trees to forest edge and semi-desert (absent in forest interior), especially in scrub, thickets, gardens, towns, and around cultivated areas (AOU 1983). Nests in dense shrubbery, tree branches, vines, cholla, prickly pear, sagebrush, usually 1-3 m above ground, often near houses (Harrison 1979).

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Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Northern mockingbirds like open habitats and forest edges. They are often seen in residential areas, farmlands, along roads, in city parks, open grassy areas with thickets and brushy deserts. They like grassy areas, but need a tree or other high structure to perch on. Northern mockingbirds occupy similar habitat all year.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Northern mockingbirds prefer open areas and forest edges. They are commonly found in residential areas, farmlands, roadsides, city parks, open grassy areas with thickets and brushy deserts. They require a tree or higher perch from which they can defend their territories. Northern mockingbirds occupy similar habitat year-round.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Populations at northern edge of breeding range partially migratory southward for winter.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Diet of adults and nestlings mainly insects and other invertebrates and small fruits (Terres 1980).

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Food Habits

Northern mockingbirds are omnivores. Their main foods are insects, berries and seeds. Insects they eat include beetles (order Coleoptera), ants (order Hymenoptera), grasshoppers (order Orthoptera) and spiders (order Araneae). They eat the fruits of holly, mulberries, raspberries, dogwoods, brambles, grapes and figs. They also eat earthworms, and sometimes small crustaceans and small Anolis.

Northern mockingbirds usually search for food on the ground or while perched in a tree or shrub. They drink water from puddles, the edges of rivers or lakes, or from wet plants.

Animal Foods: reptiles; insects; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

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Food Habits

Northern mockingbirds are omnivores. Their primary food sources are insects, berries and seeds. Insects they eat include beetles (order Coleoptera), ants (order Hymenoptera), grasshoppers (order Orthoptera) and spiders (order Araneae). Plants that are included in their diets are: holly, mulberries, raspberries, dogwood, brambles, grapes and figs. They also eat earthworms, and occasionally small crustaceans and small lizards.

Northern mockingbirds usually forage on the ground or while perched in a tree or shrub. They obtain water by drinking from puddles, river and lake edges and dew and rain droplets that collect on vegetation.

Animal Foods: reptiles; insects; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Northern mockingbirds play an important role as seed dispersers. After eating berries, northern mockingbirds release seeds in their feces. This helps the plant to spread its seeds. Northern mockingbirds also impact populations of the insects they eat.

Northern mockingbirds host several ectoparasites. These parasites include blowfly larvae (family Calliphoridae), fleas and mites. Finally, three Molothrus are brood parasites of northern mockingbirds. This means that the cowbirds lay eggs in the northern mockingbirds’ nests. Sometimes the northern mockingbirds will incubate the egg and raise the cowbird chicks along with their own chicks.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Adult northern mockingbirds are killed by Accipiter striatus, Otus asio, Aphelocoma coerulescense and Bubo virginianus. Females that are incubating eggs are sometimes killed by snakes.

Cyanocitta cristata, Corvus ossifragus, Corvus brachyrhynchos, Serpentes and squirrels eat northern mockingbird eggs and chicks.

When predators come near to a nest, adults make alarm calls. Several adults may also mob predator that enter their territory. They swoop at the predator and sometimes even hit them.

Known Predators:

  • sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter_striatus)
  • eastern screech owls (Otus_asio)
  • scrub jays (Aphelocoma_coerulescense)
  • great horned owls (Bubo_virginianus)
  • blue jays (Cyanocitta_cristata)
  • fish crows (Corvus_ossifragus)
  • American crows (Corvus_brachyrhynchos)
  • squirrels (Sciruidae)
  • snakes (Serpentes)
  • American alligators (Alligator_mississipiensis)
  • birds of prey (Falconiformes)

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Ecosystem Roles

Northern mockingbirds play an important role as seed dispersers. They also impact populations of the insects they eat. Northern mockingbirds host several ectoparasites, including blowfly larvae (family Calliphoridae), fleas and mites. Finally, three cowbird species (genus Molothrus) brood parasitize northern mockingbirds. This means that these cowbird species lay eggs in the nests of northern mockingbirds that then raise the cowbird chicks.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Adult northern mockingbirds are vulnerable to predation by sharp-shinned hawks, screech owls, scrub jays and great horned owls. Incubating females are also occasionally killed by snakes.

Northern mockingbird eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predation by blue jays, fish crows, American crows, snakes and squirrels.

When predators approach the nest, adults give alarm calls. Adults often also mob predators that enter a territory, sometimes striking them.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Mimus polyglottos is prey of:
Lynx rufus
Canis latrans
Serpentes
Alligator mississippiensis
Falconiformes

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Known prey organisms

Mimus polyglottos preys on:
seeds of other plants
mistletoe
Orthoptera
Lepidoptera
Gryllidae
cactus weevils
Moneilema
Papilionoidea
Crustacea
Insecta

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Northern mockingbirds communicate mostly using songs. They can sing at least 39 different songs and 50 other call notes. They can also imitate certain sounds such as dogs barking, pianos, sirens and squeaky gates. Songs are important in mating. Males sing to attract females and to defend their territory against other males. They sing often, at night and during the day.

Northern mockingbirds also use visual displays to communicate. For example, males perform a “flight display”. During this display, males sing and fly up and down to attract a female.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: mimicry

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Communication and Perception

Northern mockingbirds communicate primarily using song. They can perform at least 39 different songs as well as 50 other call notes. They also have the ability to mimic certain sounds such as dogs barking, pianos, sirens and squeaky gates. Song is also an essential part in mating. Males use their song to attract mates and to mark their territory. They sing often, both during the night and day.

Northern mockingbirds also use visual cues to communicate. For example, males perform a “flight display” to attract and court a mate (see Reproduction: Mating Systems). This display integrates auditory and visual methods of communication.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: mimicry

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Cyclicity

Comments: May sing day and night in breeding season.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Northern mockingbirds have been known to live up to 8 years in the wild. Captive northern mockingbirds have lived up to 20 years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
8 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
20 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
178 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Northern mockingbirds have been known to live up to 8 years in the wild. Captive northern mockingbirds have lived up to 20 years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
8 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
20 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
178 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 20 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Clutch size 3-6 (usually 4-5). Two to 3 broods per year. Incubation 11-17 days, by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at 10-24 days (usually < 2 weeks). May retain same mate through successive nesting attempts in single season and through successive years. Sometimes polygynous.

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Northern mockingbirds are usually monogamous. However, occasionally one male will mate with more than two females. Male and female breeding pairs usually stay together for a whole breeding season, and sometimes for many years.

Males choose a territory and then try to attract a female to mate there. There are three courtship displays that males use to attract female. The male may chase the female through the territory while singing, or her may run around on branches, showing the female where a nest could be built. Males also perform a “flight display”. In the “flight display”, males sing while flying a few meters into the air and then falling slowly back down. This display shows off their white wing patches to the female.

Mating System: monogamous

Northern mockingbirds breed in spring and early summer. Their nests are cup-shaped and are made of twigs, cotton, dry leaves, stems, paper, grass and other organic material. The nests are built in shrubs and trees up to 50 feet above the ground.

The female lays two to six eggs (average 4 eggs). The eggs are about 24 mm long and 18 mm wide. They are blue or greenish with brown or reddish spots. Female mockingbirds incubate the eggs, males do not. The eggs hatch after 11 to 14 days. The chicks are helpless when they hatch. However, they grow quickly and can leave the nest after 10 to 12 days. When the chicks leave the nest, the male continues to feed them and teaches them to fly. The female begins building a new nest for the next brood of eggs. The fledglings become independent from their parents when they are 10 to 15 days old. They may begin breeding when they are one year old. Northern mockingbirds can raise 2 to 4 broods each year.

Breeding interval: Northern mockingbirds can have 2 to 4 broods a year.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in the spring and early summer.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 11 to 14 days.

Range fledging age: 10 to 12 days.

Range time to independence: 10 to 15 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Average eggs per season: 4.

Females incubate the eggs, males do not. When the eggs hatch, the female and male both feed and protect the helpless chicks. After the chicks leave the nest, the female begins to build a new nest for a second brood. During this time, the male teaches the chicks to fly and feeds them.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Protecting: Male)

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Northern mockingbirds are generally monogamous. Polygyny and bigamy seem to occur only rarely in this species. Breeding pairs remain together for the length of a breeding season, occasionally for life.

Males establish a territory and attempt to attract a female using courtship displays. They may chase the female through the territory while calling, or run along shrub and tree branches, showing her potential nest sites. Males also perform a flight display, which shows off their white wing patches. In the flight display, males sing continuously while flying a few meters into the air and then parachuting slowly back down.

Mating System: monogamous

Northern mockingbirds breed in spring and early summer. Their nests are bulky and cup-like and are made of twigs, cotton, dry leaves, stems, paper, grass and other organic material. Nests are built in shrubs and trees anywhere from one to fifty feet off of the ground. After mating, the female lays two to six eggs (average 4 eggs), which are approximately 24 by 18 mm in size. The eggs are usually a blue to greenish color and may have several brown or reddish spots. Female mockingbirds are the sole incubators of the eggs. The eggs hatch after 11 to 14 days. Though the chicks are altricial at hatching, they leave the nest after 10 to 12 days. When the young fledge, the female usually begins to build a new nest, and the male is active in teaching the young to fly as well as continuing to feed them. The fledglings are independent in 10 to 15 days and reach sexual maturity in one year. Northern mockingbirds can raise 2 to 4 broods a year.

Breeding interval: Northern mockingbirds can have 2 to 4 broods a year.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in the spring and early summer.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 11 to 14 days.

Range fledging age: 10 to 12 days.

Range time to independence: 10 to 15 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Average eggs per season: 4.

Females incubate the eggs, males do not. However, when the eggs hatch, the female and male are both active in feeding and protecting the altricial young. After the chicks fledge, the female begins to build a new nest for a second brood. During this time, the males teach the young to fly and continue to feed them.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Protecting: Male)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Mimus polyglottos

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 6 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATCGGCACTCTCTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGGATAGTAGGTACTGCCCTA---AGCCTCCTCATCCGAGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCCCTACTAGGAGAC---GACCAAGTCTACAATGTAGTCGTTACAGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTTATGGTTATACCAATCATGATCGGGGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATA---ATTGGAGCCCCAGACATGGCATTCCCCCGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCCCCATCCTTCCTCCTACTCCTAGCATCCTCCACAGTAGAATCAGGAGTAGGGACAGGCTGAACCGTATACCCGCCCCTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTG---GCCATTTTCTCCCTCCATCTAGCCGGTATCTCCTCAATTCTAGGAGCTATCAACTTCATCACAACAGCAATCAACATAAAACCACCCGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTATTCGTTTGATCAGTACTAATCACTGCAGTACTACTCCTCCTATCCCTCCCTGTCCTTGCCGCA---GGCATTACCATGCTCCTCACCGACCGCAACCTCAACACCACCTTCTTCGACCCAGCAGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTACTTTACCAACATCTCTTCTGGTTCTTTGGCCACCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTAATCCTTCCAGGATTTGGAATCATCTCCCACGTCGTGGCCTACTACTCAGGAAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTACATAGGAATAGTATGAGCCATACTATCCATCGGGTTCCTGGGCTTTATCGTCTGAGCCCACCACATGTTTACGGTAGGAATGGACGTAGACACCCGAGCCTACTTCACATCTGCCACCATAATCATCGCCATCCCAACAGGAATCAAAGTGTTCAGCTGACTA---GCAACG
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Mimus polyglottos

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 21
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Scientists are not worried about this species. Northern mockingbird populations are large. There are about 45,000,000 northern mockingbirds in the world. This species is protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Northern mockingbird populations are extensive and are not currently of conservation concern. There are an estimated 45,000,000 northern mockingbirds worldwide. This species is protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population Trend
Stable
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Some people may be kept awake at night by the night-time singing of northern mockingbirds. Gardeners and farmers may also loose some of their fruit and vegetable crops to these birds.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern mockingbirds eat insects that are pests to humans. These insects include beetles, ants, wasps and grasshoppers. Mockingbirds also disperse the seeds of many plants. Humans study the interesting behaviors and the many songs of northern mockingbirds.

Positive Impacts: research and education; controls pest population

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Northern mockingbirds are often thought of as a nuisance because of their nocturnal singing, which may keep people up at night. Gardeners and farmers may also dislike these birds which often feed on fruits and vegetables, potentially damaging their crops.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern mockingbirds eat insects that humans often consider to be pests. These include beetles, ants, wasps and grasshoppers. They also disperse the seeds of many plants. Humans often study their unique behaviors and vast vocal repertoire.

Positive Impacts: research and education; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Northern mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is the only mockingbird commonly found in North America. This bird is mainly a permanent resident, but northern birds may move south during harsh weather. This species has rarely been observed in Europe. This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturæ in 1758 as Turdus polyglottos. The Northern Mockingbird is renowned for its mimicking ability, as reflected by the meaning of its scientific name, 'many-tongued mimic.' The Northern Mockingbird has gray to brown upper feathers and a paler belly. Its wings have white patches which are visible in flight.

The Northern Mockingbird is an omnivore. It eats both insects and fruits. It is often found in open areas and forest edges but forages in grassy land. The Northern Mockingbird breeds in southeastern Canada, the United States, northern Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and the Greater Antilles. It is replaced further south by its closest living relative, the Tropical Mockingbird. The Socorro Mockingbird, an endangered species, is also closely related, contrary to previous opinion. The Northern Mockingbird is listed as of Least Concern according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Northern Mockingbird is known for its intelligence and has also been noted in North American culture. A 2009 study showed that the bird was able to recognize individual humans, particularly noting those who had previously been intruders or threats. Also birds recognize their breeding spots and return to areas in which they had greatest success in previous years. Urban birds are more likely to demonstrate this behavior. Finally, the mockingbird has influenced United States culture in multiple ways. The bird is a State bird of 5 states, has been used in book titles, and has also been used in popular songs and lullabies among other appearances in U.S. culture.

Taxonomy[edit]

Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus first described this species in his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Turdus polyglottos.[2] Its current Latin name, Mimus polyglottos, means “many-tongued mimic”, representing its outstanding ability to mimic various sounds.[3] The Northern Mockingbird is considered to be conspecific with the Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus).[4] This species is categorized as the Northern Mockingbird as the closest living relative to M. gilvus.[5][6]

Subspecies[edit]

There are three recognized subspecies for the Northern Mockingbird.[7][8] There have been proposed races from the Bahamas and Haiti placed under the orpheus section.[8]

  • M. p. leucopterus 'Western Mockingbird' (Vigors, 1839): generally found in the western portion of North America ranging from NW Nebraska and Western Texas to the Pacific Coast, and south to Mexico (the Isthmus of Tehuantepec), and Socorro Island.[7][8] Larger than M. p. polyglottos and has a slightly shorter tail, upperparts are more buff and paler, underparts have a stronger buff pigment.[7]
  • M. p. orpheus (Linnaeus, 1758): Ranges from the Bahamas to the Greater Antilles, also the Cayman and Virgin Islands.[8] Similar to M. m. polyglottos except smaller, a paler shade of gray on its back, and underparts with practically little, if any buff at all.[7]

Description[edit]

Adult at Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Juvenile in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, USA

The Northern Mockingbird is a medium-sized mimid that has long legs and tail.[9] Both males and females look alike.[10] Its upper parts are colored gray, while its underparts have a white or whitish-gray color.[11] It has parallel wing bars on the half of the wings connected near the white patch giving it a distinctive appearance in flight.[11] The black central rectrices and typical white lateral rectrices are also noticeable in flight.[11] The iris is usually a light green-yellow or a yellow, but there have been instances of an orange color.[7] The bill is black with a brownish black appearance at the base.[7] The juvenile appearance is marked by its streaks on its back, distinguished spots and streaks on its chest, and a gray or grayish-green iris.[7]

Northern Mockingbirds measure from 20.5 to 28 cm (8.1 to 11.0 in) including a tail almost as long as its body. The wingspan can range from 31–38 cm (12–15 in) and body mass is from 40–58 g (1.4–2.0 oz). Males tend to be slightly larger than females.[12][13] Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 10 to 12 cm (3.9 to 4.7 in), the tail is 10 to 13.4 cm (3.9 to 5.3 in), the culmen is 1.6 to 1.9 cm (0.63 to 0.75 in) and the tarsus is 2.9 to 3.4 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in).[7]

The Northern Mockingbird's lifespan is observed to be up to 8 years, but captive birds can live up to 20 years.[14]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

The Mockingbird usually resides in fields and forest edges.[7] It is usually seen in farmlands, roadsides, city parks, suburban areas, and open grassy areas with thickets and brushy deserts.[9] When foraging for food, it prefers short grass.[11] It also has an affinity for mowed lawns.[11] This bird does not nest in densely forested areas.[7][15]

The Mockingbirds' breeding range is from Maritime provinces of Canada westwards to British Columbia, practically the entire Continental United States, and the majority of Mexico to eastern Oaxaca and Veracruz.[7] The Mockingbird is generally a year-round resident of its range, but the birds that live in the northern portion of its range have been noted further south during the winter season.[11] The bird can most frequently be found in the Southern United States.[9] Sightings of the Mockingbird have also been recorded in Hawaii (where it was introduced),[9] southeastern Alaska,[16] as well as three recorded British transatlantic vagrants, though one was certain to be an escaped bird.[11]

Behavior[edit]

Diet[edit]

The Northern Mockingbird is an omnivore. The birds' diet consists of arthropods, earthworms, berries, fruits, seeds, and seldom, lizards.[7] Mockingbirds can drink from puddles, river and lake edges, or dew and rain droplets that amass onto plants.[11] Adult Mockingbirds also have been seen drinking sap from the cuts on recently pruned trees.[11] Its diet heavily consists of animal prey during the breeding season, but takes a drastic shift to fruits during the fall and winter.[11] The drive for fruits amid winter has been noted for the geographic expansion of the Mockingbird, and in particular, the fruit of the Rosa multiflora, a favorite of the birds, is a possible link.[7][11]

Displaying

These birds forage on the ground or in vegetation; they also fly down from a perch to capture food.[11] While foraging, they frequently spread their wings in a peculiar two-step motion to display the white patches. There is disagreement among ornithologists over the purpose of this behavior, with hypotheses ranging from deceleration to intimidation of predators or prey.[17][18]

Breeding[edit]

Both the male and female of the species reach sexual maturity after 1 year of life. The breeding season occurs in the spring and early summer.[9] The males arrive before the beginning of the season to establish their territories. The males use a series of courtship displays to attract the females to their sites.[9] They run around the area either to showcase their territory to the females or to pursue the females. The males also engage in flight to showcase their wings.[9] They sing and call as they perform all of these displays. The species can remain monogamous for many years, but incidents of polygyny and bigamy have been reported to occur during the bird's lifetime.

The Northern Mockingbird pairs hatch about 2 to 4 broods a year.[9] In one breeding season, the Northern Mockingbird lays an average of 4 eggs. They hatch after about 11 to 14 days of incubation. After about 10 to 15 days of life, the offspring become independent.[9]

Both the male and female are involved in the nest building.[19] The male does most of the work, while the female perches on the shrub or tree where the nest is being built to watch for predators. The nest is built approximately three to ten feet above the ground.[19] The outer part of the nest is composed of twigs, while the inner part is lined with grasses, dead leaves, moss, or artificial fibers. The eggs are a light blue or greenish color and speckled with dots.[12] The female lays three to five eggs, and she incubates them for nearly two weeks. Once the eggs are hatched, both the male and female will feed the chicks.[19]

The birds aggressively defend their nests and surrounding areas against other birds and animals.[19] When a predator is persistent, mockingbirds that are summoned by distinct calls from neighboring territories may join the attack. Other birds may gather to watch as the mockingbirds harass the intruder. In addition to harassing domestic cats and dogs they consider a threat,[9] it is not unheard of for mockingbirds to target humans. The birds are absolutely unafraid and will attack much larger birds, even hawks. One famous incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma involving a postal carrier resulted in the distribution of a warning letter to residents.[20]

Sexual selection[edit]

Northern Mockingbird in Texas.jpg

Northern Mockingbirds are famous for their song repertoires. Studies have shown that males sing songs at the beginning of breeding season to attract females.[21] Unmated males sing songs in more directions and sing more bouts than mated males. In addition, unmated males perform more flight displays than mated males.[11] The Mockingbirds usually nest several times during one breeding season.[22] Depending on the stage of breeding and the mating status, a male Mockingbird will vary his song production. The unmated male keeps close track of this change. He sings in one direction when he perceives a chance to lure a female from the nest of the mated male.[21] Unmated males are also more likely to use elevated perches to extend his songs to a further range.[21] Though the mockingbirds are socially monogamous, mated males have been known to sing to attract additional mates.[23]

An observational study by Logan demonstrates that the female is continuously evaluating the quality of the male and his territory.[24] The assessment is usually triggered by the arrival of a new male in a neighboring territory at the beginning of a new breeding season. In those cases, the mated female is constantly seen flying over both the original and the new male’s territory, evaluating the qualities of both territories and exchanging calls with both males.[24] The social mate displays aggressive behaviors towards the female, while the new male shows less aggression and sings softer songs.[24] At the same time, both the mated male and the new male will fly over other territories to attract other females as well. Divorce, mate switching and extra-pair matings do occur in Northern Mockingbirds.[11][24]

Sex allocation[edit]

Northern Mockingbirds adjust the sex ratio of their offspring according to the food availability and population density. Male offspring usually require more parental investment. There is therefore a bias for bearing the costlier sex at the beginning of a breeding season when the food is abundant.[25] Local resource competition predicts that the parents have to share the resources with offspring that remain at the natal site after maturation. In passerine birds, like the Northern Mockingbird, females are more likely to disperse than males.[26] Hence, it is adaptive to produce more dispersive sex than philopatric sex when the population density is high and the competition for local resources is intense. Since Northern Mockingbirds are abundant in urban environments, it is possible that the pollution and contamination in cities might affect sexual hormones and therefore play a role in offspring sex ratio.[27]

Mating[edit]

Northern Mockingbirds are socially monogamous. The two sexes look alike except that males are a little larger in size than females. Mutual mate choice is exhibited in Northern Mockingbirds.[28] Both males and females prefer mates that are more aggressive towards intruders, and so exhibit greater parental investment. However, males are more defensive of their nests than females. In a population where male breeding adults outnumber females breeding adults, females have more freedom in choosing their mates.[28] In these cases, these female breeders have the option of changing mates within a breeding season if the first male does not provide a high level of parental care, which includes feeding and nest defense.[29] High nesting success is associated with highly aggressive males attacking intruders in the territory, and so these males are preferred by females.[29]

Parental care[edit]

Northern Mockingbirds are altricial, meaning that, when hatched, they are born relatively immobile and defenseless and therefore require nourishment for a certain duration from their parents. The young have a survival bottleneck at the nestling stage because there are higher levels of nestling predation than egg predation. The levels of belligerence exhibited by parents therefore increase once eggs hatch but there is no increase during the egg stage.[28]

Eggs in a nest

A recent study shows that both food availability and temperature affect the parental incubation of the eggs in Northern Mockingbirds. Increasing food availability provides the females with more time to care for the nest and perform self-maintenance. Increasing temperature, however, reduces the time the females spend at the nest and there is increased energy cost to cool the eggs. The incubation behavior is a trade-off among various environmental factors.[30]

Mockingbird nests are also often parasitized by cowbirds. The parents are found to reject parasitic eggs at an intermediate rate.[31] A recent study has shown that foreign eggs are more likely to be rejected from a nest later in the breeding season than from earlier in a breeding season. Early nesting hosts may not have learned the pattern and coloration of their first clutch yet, so are less likely to reject foreign eggs. There is also a seasonal threshold in terms of the overlap between the breeding seasons of the Northern Mockingbirds and their parasites. If the breeding season of the parasites starts later, there is less likelihood of parasitism. Hence, it pays the hosts to have relatively lower sensitivity to parasitic eggs.[32]

Song and calls[edit]

Songs and calls
Calling during spring.

Although many species of bird imitate the vocalizations of other birds, the Northern Mockingbird is the best known in North America for doing so. It imitates not only birds, but also other animals and mechanical sounds such as car alarms. As convincing as these imitations may be to humans, they often fail to fool other birds, such as the Florida Scrub-Jay.[33]

The Northern Mockingbird's mimicry is likely to serve as a form of sexual selection through which competition between males and female choice influence a bird's song repertoire size.[33] Both male and female mockingbirds sing, with the latter being generally quieter and less vocal.

There are four recognized calls for the Mockingbird: the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call.[11] The Hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall.[11] Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used by either sex when disturbed.[11] The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.[11]

Intelligence[edit]

In a paper published in 2009, researchers found that mockingbirds were able to recall an individual human who, earlier in the study, had approached and threatened the mockingbirds' nest. Researchers had one participant stand near a mockingbird nest and touch it, while others avoided the nest. Later, the mockingbirds recognized the intruder and exhibited defensive behavior, while ignoring the other individuals.[34]

Adaptation to urban habitats[edit]

A Northern Mockingbird on top of a Duke University Hospital sign reading "Duke medicine is 100% tobacco-free INSIDE AND OUTSIDE" in Durham, North Carolina
In the urban habitat at Durham, North Carolina

Northern Mockingbird is a species that is found in both urban and rural habitats. There are now more Northern Mockingbirds living in urban habitats than non-urban environments, so they are consequently known as an urban-positive species.[35] Biologists have long questioned how Northern Mockingbirds adapt to a novel environment in cities, and whether they fall into the typical ecological traps that are common for urban-dwelling birds.[35] A comparative study between an urban dwelling population and a rural dwelling one shows that the apparent survival is higher for individuals in the urban habitats. Lower food availability and travel costs may account for the higher mortality rate in rural habitats.[36] Urban birds are more likely to return to the nest where they had successfully bred the previous year and avoid those where breeding success was low. One explanation for this phenomenon is that urban environments are more predictable than non-urban ones, as the site fidelity among urban birds prevents them from ecological traps.[36]

In culture[edit]

Painting by John James Audubon

It also features in the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because "they don't do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us".[37]

The Northern Mockingbird also shows up in a classic American folk song, "Listen to the Mocking Bird".[38]

The opening two stanzas of the lullaby Hush, Little Baby feature a mockingbird.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, had a pet mockingbird named "Dick."[39][40]

State bird[edit]

The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas,[41] and formerly the state bird of South Carolina.

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Mimus polyglottos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). p. 169. "T. obscure cinereus, subtus pallide cinereus, macula alarum albida" 
  3. ^ Tveten, J. (2004). Our Life with Birds : A Nature Trails Book (1st ed.). College Station: Texas A & M University Press. p. 234. ISBN 1-58544-380-8. 
  4. ^ Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. 
  5. ^ Hunt, Jeffrey S.; Bermingham, E.; Ricklefs, R. E. (2001). "Molecular systematics and biogeography of Antillean thrashers, tremblers, and mockingbirds (Aves: Mimidae)". Auk 118 (1): 35. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2001)118[0035:MSABOA]2.0.CO;2. 
  6. ^ Barber, B. R.; Martínez-Gómez, J. E.; Peterson, A. T. (2004). "Systematic position of the Socorro mockingbird Mimodes graysoni". Journal of Avian Biology 35 (3): 195. doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03233.x. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Brewer, D. (2001). Wrens, Dippers and Thrashers. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 231–232. ISBN 978-1-8734-0395-2. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)". Handbook of the Birds of the World. Internet Bird Collection. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Breitmeyer, E. (2007). "Mimus Polyglottos". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos". Nature Works. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Derrickson, K.C.; Breitwisch, R. (1992). "Northern Mockingbird". The Birds of North America 7: 1–26. doi:10.2173/bna.7. 
  12. ^ a b "Northern Mockingbird". The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Dunning Jr., J. B. (1993). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. Boca Raton,: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5. 
  14. ^ "Northern Mockingbird". Wildlife. National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Corman, T. E.; Wise-Gervais, C. (2005). Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 444–447. ISBN 0-8263-3379-6. 
  16. ^ "The AOU Check-list of North American Birds, 7th Edition:Incertae Sedis – Mimidae". The Auk 7: 416–522. 1998. 
  17. ^ Horwich, R.H. (1965). "An Ontogeny of Wing-flashing in the Mockingbird with Reference to Other Behaviors" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. 3 77: 264–281. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  18. ^ Dhondt, André A.; Kaylan M. Kemink (2008). "Wing-flashing in Northern mockingbirds: anti-predator defense?". Journal of Ethology 26 (3): 361–365. doi:10.1007/s10164-007-0070-z. 
  19. ^ a b c d Mobley, Jason A. (2009). Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish. p. 427. ISBN 978-0-7614-7775-4. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Overall, M. (22 July 2007). "Wild bird warning:Mockingbird stalks mail carrier". Tulsa World. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  21. ^ a b c Breitwisch, R.; Whitesides, G.H. (1987). "Directionality of singing and non-singing behavior of mated and unmated Northern Mockingbirds, Mimus polyglottos". Animal Behaviour 35 (2): 331–339. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(87)80256-7. 
  22. ^ Logan, C.A. (1983). "Reproductively dependent song cyclicity in mated male mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos)". Auk 100: 404–413. 
  23. ^ Derrickson, Kim C. (1989). "Bigamy In Northern Mockingbirds: Circumventing Female-Female Aggression'". The Condor 91 (3): 728–732. doi:10.2307/1368130. 
  24. ^ a b c d Logan, C.A. (1997). "Mate-reassessment in an Already-mated Female Northern Mockingbird". The Chat. 2 61: 108–112. 
  25. ^ Schrand, B.E.; Stobart, C.C.; Engle, D.B.; Desjardins, R.B.; Farnsworth, G.L. (2011). "Nestling Sex Ratios in Two Populations of Northern Mockingbirds". Southeastern Naturalist. 2 10 (2): 365–370. doi:10.1656/058.010.0215. 
  26. ^ Clarke, A.L.; Saether, B.E.; Roskaft, E. (1997). "Sex biases in avian dispersal: A reappraisal". Oikos 79 (3): 429–438. doi:10.2307/3546885. 
  27. ^ Erikstad, K.E.; Bustnes, J.O.; Lorentsen, S.; Reiertsen, T.K. (2009). "Sex ratio in Lesser Black-backed Gull in relation to environmental pollutants". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 63 (6): 931–938. doi:10.1007/s00265-009-0736-3. 
  28. ^ a b c Breitwisch, R. (1988). "Sex differences in defense of eggs and nestlings by Northern Mockingbirds, Mimus polyglottos". Animal Behaviour 36: 62–72. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(88)80250-1. 
  29. ^ a b Breitwisch, R. (1986). "Parental Investment by the Northern Mockingbird: Male and Female Roles in Feeding Nestlings". The Auk 103: 152–159. 
  30. ^ Londoño, G.A.; Levey, D.J.; Robinson, S.K. (2008). "Effects of temperature and food on incubation behavior of the northern mocking bird, Mimus polyglottos". Animal Behaviour 76 (3): 669–677. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.05.002. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Hybridizes with and considered conspecific with M. GILVUS by some authors (AOU 1998). Phillips (1986) recognized the Saint Andrews Island population (formerly M. GILVUS) as a distinct species, M. MAGNIROSTRIS. Placed in Sturnidae in Sibley and Ahlquist (1984).

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