Northern Mockingbird

Scientific Name: Mimus polyglottos

Northern Mockingbird

Description: Northern mockingbirds are medium-sized songbirds that are gray to brown in color with a lighter underbelly. Their wings are rounded with white patches on the upper and lower surfaces that are visible when the wings are outstretched.

Size: Males are slightly larger than females. Average wingspan is 12 to 14 inches.

Diet: Insects, fruit, and seeds make up their diet.

Typical Lifespan: Lifespan in the wild is up to 8 years, although captive northern mockingbirds have lived to age 20.

Habitat: Forest edges and open areas are prime northern mockingbird habitat. They can be easily seen, because they sit atop high structures and forage for insects and berries in open areas, especially in parks and suburbs. These birds are territorial and use a high perch as a defense and lookout post.

Range: Originally found in the south, northern mockingbirds made a major range extension up both coasts toward Canada in the 1900s. Today they are found in the majority of the continental United States and also in Canada and Mexico. Some of the northernmost populations may migrate south over winter.

Life History and Reproduction: Their Latin name means “many-tongued mimic,” because rather than singing their own songs, northern mockingbirds learn and repeat the songs of other species. An individual can learn up to 200 songs during its lifetime. These birds don’t just repeat other birdsongs randomly. It appears that males have two separate sets of songs for the spring and fall seasons. In addition to birdsong, northern mockingbirds repeat dog barks, musical instruments, and sirens.

Both males and females sing, but males are louder and active more often throughout the year than females. Unpaired males sing 24 hours a day during the breeding season. Once a male has courted a mate by elaborately displaying his flight and singing capabilities, the pair may stay in a monogamous mating relationship over many breeding seasons, or else one male may mate with many females.

Fun Fact:

Northern mockingbird is the state bird of Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, making it the third most popular state bird behind northern cardinal and western meadowlark.

Conservation Status: Northern mockingbirds reached an all time low along the east coast in the 1800s, because so many were captured for use as pets. Since then, their numbers have rebounded significantly.

Sources:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
NatureServe Explorer
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

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