Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos

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.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • 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 behavior, but some have suggested that it startles insects into revealing themselves. However, it does not appear to flush insects, and other mockingbird species that do not have white wing patches use the display, casting doubt on this idea.
  • The Northern Mockingbird is a loud and persistent singer. It sings 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. In well-lit areas around people, even mated males may sing at night.
  • A Northern Mockingbird continues to add new sounds to its song repertoire throughout its life.
  • The Northern Mockingbird typically sings throughout most of the year, 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. One study found only a one percent overlap in song types used in spring and fall.
  • The female Northern Mockingbird sings too, although usually more quietly than the male does. She rarely sings in the summer, usually only when the male is away from the territory. She sings more in the fall, perhaps to establish a winter territory.

Description

  • Size: 21-26 cm (8-10 in)
  • Wingspan: 31-35 cm (12-14 in)
  • Weight: 45-58 g (1.59-2.05 ounces)
  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Long tail.
  • Pale gray above, whitish below.
  • Bill thin.
  • Two white wingbars.
  • Large white patches show in wings in flight.
  • White outer tail feathers.
  • Central tail feathers black.
  • Thin, dark eyeline.
  • Eyes yellow to orange.
  • Legs long and dusky.
  • Bill black with brown base.
Sex Differences
Sexes look alike.
 
Immature
Juvenile similar to adult, but with faint spots on breast.
 
Range Map
 
Taxonomic Hierarchy

Spotted_Sandpiper_AllAm

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Mimidae
Genus: Mimus
Species: Mimus polyglottos
     Subspecies:
  • Mimus polyglottos leucopterus
  • Mimus polyglottos polyglottos
Sound
Song is a series of varied phrases, with each phrase repeated many times in a row. Includes much mimicry of other bird songs and calls. Call a harsh dry "chew."

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
Body
  • Length Range: 25 cm (10 in)
  • Weight: 48 g (1.7 oz)
  • Size: 3. Medium (9 - 16 in)
  • Color Primary: Gray
  • Underparts: White with gray wash.
  • Upperparts: Gray
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
 
Head
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Yellow to green or brown yellow.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Plain
  • Crown Color: Gray
  • Forehead Color: Gray
  • Nape Color: Gray
  • Throat Color: White with gray wash.
  • Cere color: No Data
Flight
  • Flight Pattern: Several quick wing strokes alternated with wings pulled to the sides.
  • Wingspan Range: 33-38 cm (13-15 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Gray-black
  • Under Tail: White
  • Leg Color: Black
Breeding
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge, Open landscapes, Grassland with scattered trees, Bushes, shrubs, and thickets, Desert, Desert, semi
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Blue green with brown splotches
  • Number of Eggs: 2 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 13
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Sticks, stems, bits of fabric, and string.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with light gray down. Chicks fledge in 12 days.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Moqueur polyglotte (French)
  • Centzontle, Jilguero, Ruiseñor (Spanish)
  • Gray Catbird is darker gray all over, without white in wings and tail.
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is similarly colored, but is tiny, lacks much white in wings, and has a white eyering.
  • Loggerhead Shrike has less white in the wings, black wings, a black mask, and flies with wingbeats too fast to count.

Conservation Status

Common and widespread. Populations may be declining in heart of the range, but range is expanding northward.

Habitat

Sources used to Construct this Page:

Found in areas with open ground and shrubby vegetation, such as in parkland, cultivated land, and suburbs.
  • Derrickson, K. C., and R. Breitwisch. 1992. Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). In The Birds of North America, No. 7 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Hayslette, S. E. 2003. A test of the foraging function of wing-flashing in northern mockingbirds. Southeastern Naturalist 2:93-98.
Food
Fruits and insects.
Behavior
Forages on ground and from perches. Picks fruit while perched on branch, but may hover to get some fruit.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

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Videos
   
 
 

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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