Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn hundreds of songs!
Mockingbird Scientific Classification
- Insects, spiders, land crabs, snails, earthworms, other invertebrates, lizards, baby turtles
- Main Prey
- Name Of Young
- Group Behavior
- Fun Fact
- Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn hundreds of songs!
- Biggest Threat
- Most Distinctive Feature
- Ability to sing many songs and mimic birds and other animals.
- Distinctive Feature
- Long tail; long, pointy bill; long legs; usually gray with white and black accents; sometimes blue or brown
- Incubation Period
- 12 to 14 days in Northern Mockingbirds; little is reported on other species
- Age Of Fledgling
- About 12 days in Northern Mockingbirds; little is reported on other species
- Mostly open areas, sparse forests, forest edges, parks, urban areas, suburban areas, pastures, grasslands, savannas, shrublands, desert edges
- Cats, hawks, owls, snakes, crows, jays, squirrels, raccoons
- Favorite Food
- Besides insects, berries and other fruits
- Number Of Species
- North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean
- Average Clutch Size
- Nesting Location
- Usually in trees
Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn up to 200 songs!
There are 14 different species of mockingbirds, including the Northern Mockingbird, which lives in the United States, southern Canada, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. The rest live further south, from Mexico through Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. Some live on islands and others on the mainland. These birds are mostly the same shape, and close to the same size. Most of the species are shades of gray with accents of white. One species is brown on its back, while two other species are mostly blue. They are all proficient singers, mastering the songs of other birds and composing tunes of their own. They are also aggressive fighters, ready to take on anyone or anything that invades their territory.
Incredible Mockingbird Facts
- Mockingbirds are omnivores that eat insects and other invertebrates, as well as seeds, fruits, small animals, and carrion.
- These birds are smart. They can remember the faces of people who come too close to their nests, and they aren’t likely to forgive subsequent intrusions.
- Some of the species of mockingbirds are endangered or threatened.
- Many of these birds are named for the places where they are found.
- Others are named for their appearance.
- The species of the Galápagos Islands were in the Nesomimus genus until 2007, when they were moved to the Mimus genus.
Where to Find Mockingbirds
These songbirds live in the Western Hemisphere. The Mimus varieties range from Mexico through Central and South America. Some live in the Caribbean. Most are named for where they live or what they look like. The Northern Mockingbird, for instance, ranges from southern Canada through the United States and into Mexico and the Caribbean. It has the northernmost range of all the Mimidae species.
The Bahama Mockingbird, not surprisingly, lives in the Caribbean, primarily in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, the Patagonian Mockingbird lives primarily in the Patagonian region of Argentina and Chile. The Chilean Mockingbird lives only in Chile, west of the Andes. The Tropical Mockingbird lives in the tropical regions of Central and South America and on the coast of Brazil. And the critically endangered Socorro Mockingbird lives on the tiny Mexican island of Socorro.
The Galápagos Mockingbird, the endangered Floreana Mockingbird, the vulnerable Española Mockingbird and the near threatened San Cristobal Mockingbird all live in the Galápagos Islands.
The Chalk-browed Mockingbird, the Brown-backed Mockingbird, the White-banded Mockingbird and the Long-tailed Mockingbird are all Mimus species native to South America.
The Melanotis genus includes the Blue Mockingbird, which lives in Mexico, and the Blue-and-white Mockingbird, which lives in Mexico and Central America.
Mockingbirds inhabit a variety of habitats. They often live in forest edges, but not deep within dense forests. They frequently make their homes in desert scrublands, savannas and grasslands, amongst shrubs and thickets, farms, open pastures, and parks. Mockingbirds prefer sparse trees and open areas with shrubs, hedges, or other cover. These birds are just as comfortable in rural and remote areas as they are in suburban or even urban settings.
These birds build their nests from materials easily found in their environment. They are generally cup shaped with a loose base made of twigs. The birds line the nests with whatever softer materials they can find, including grasses, rootlets, cotton or other soft fibers, and even bits of paper.
Mockingbirds belong to the Mimidae family. This family also includes catbirds, thrashers and tremblers, all of which somewhat resemble one another. Mockingbirds all originally belonged to the genus Orpheus, as described by Swainson in 1828. Today they belong to either the genus Mimus, meaning mimic, or the genus Melanotis, meaning black-eared. Four species from the Galápagos Islands belonged to a separate genus, Nesomimus, for a long time, but they were absorbed into the Mimus genus in 2007.
Within the genus Mimus, there are 14 different species. The Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, is the only one that is regularly seen in the United States. This bird’s scientific name is Latin, meaning many-tongued mimic.
Mockingbirds all look similar, at least with regard to their shape. They are a bit larger than the average passerine, with lengths ranging from about 8 to 11 inches. They have a somewhat sleek appearance, probably due to their long, pointed bills and their tails, which can be as long as the rest of their body. Their legs are on the lengthy side as well. Most of the Mimus species are shades of gray with various markings, including white stripes and bands. The Brown-backed Mockingbird is similar, but it has a brown back.
The Melanotis varieties are similarly shaped, but they differ in color from the Mimus birds. The Blue Mockingbird is, you guessed it, blue. And the Blue-and-white Mockingbird has blue feathers on its upper parts and white plumage below. Both have black masks that extend from their bills, covering their lores, to well past their eyes.
Mockingbirds are known for their songs. They are incredible mimics and can actually learn up to 200 songs! They sing throughout the day, and sometimes into the night. Interestingly, they do not just mimic other birds. They can also mimic such animals as cats, dogs, and even frogs. People have long marveled at the vocal repertoire of these remarkable birds.
Mockingbirds engage in defensive posturing with raised wings and make alarm calls to try to frighten away potential threats. According to Dave Gammon, a professor who studies these birds extensively, the Northern Mockingbird uses different alarm calls specific to different predators. “Specifically, mockingbirds ‘chat’ for the cats, ‘scream’ at the crows and ‘chuck’ for the snakes,” Gammon explained.
These birds are aggressive, especially when defending their nests. They will even chase other birds and dive bomb humans and other animals to drive them away from their nests. They are also quite intelligent; they can recognize human faces, and react more aggressively to people who have invaded their space before.
Mockingbirds do not tend to flock together. They are mostly solitary except when they are engaged in a breeding pair.
Some of these birds migrate, but many, even within the same species, stay in the same place year-round. Some are endemic to very small areas and do not migrate at all.
Mockingbirds are omnivores. Depending on their location, the widespread species eat a variety of different foods. Northern Mockingbirds eat many types of invertebrates, including insects, spiders, earthworms, crustaceans, snails, and more. They also eat small lizards. During the fall and winter, especially, they eat more seeds, berries and other fruits, both wild and cultivated.
Some species have a more varied diet than others. Several species eat the eggs of other birds and lizards. A few, such as the Bahama Mockingbird, supplement their diet with nectar. The Socorro Mockingbird eats terrestrial crabs in addition to more common invertebrate prey. And the species native to the Galápagos Islands eat baby turtles, the blood of injured birds, and just about any kind of dead animals they can find.
Mockingbirds form mostly monogamous pairs based on mutual selection. Sometimes the birds are polygynous, and sometimes they switch mates between clutches during a breeding season. These birds build their nests low in trees, usually no higher than 10 feet, and sometimes in a cactus or a shrub. In some species both males and females work together to build the nest. In other species the female does the work alone.
The female lays her eggs in the cup-shaped nest with a base of twigs and lined with softer materials. Different species of mockingbirds lay different numbers of eggs. The average seems to be 3 to 4 eggs. Females incubate the eggs, while males often assist with feeding the nestlings. Incubation takes 12 to 13 days in Northern Mockingbirds, and the chicks fledge after about 12 more days. The male cares for the young for a while after they leave the nest while the female begins building a new nest. This species reaches sexual maturity in about one year, and usually has 2 to 4 broods each year. Not as much is known about the reproductive behavior of the other species.
Predators & Threats
A study from 2011 revealed that cats are the greatest threat to Northern Mockingbirds in urban areas by far. Domestic cats accounted for 70 percent of the attacks in areas with a high human population. Of course, other animals also prey on mockingbirds. Hawks, owls, snakes, and crows are frequent predators. Eggs and chicks are also eaten by a number of nest predators, including snakes, jays, raccoons, and squirrels.
Other threats include habitat degradation and fragmentation, especially for species with smaller ranges. Storms, fires, and other natural events are particularly threatening to species that live in already troubled ecosystems. Accidents, such as window strikes, can take a toll on birds in urban areas. And human persecution is a factor, perhaps due to the territorial aggressiveness and fruit-loving nature of these birds.
Lifespan & Conservation
Little is known about the lifespan of most of the mockingbird species. The Northern Mockingbird lives approximately 8 years in the wild. It lives as long as 20 years in captivity.
The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species lists the majority of these birds as species of least concern. These species have strong numbers and at least an adequate range to overcome habitat fragmentation and other pressures.
Unfortunately, some of the species are not doing as well. The San Cristóbal Mockingbird is near threatened with a stable population but a range limited to a single island. Endemic to two small islands, the Española Mockingbird is vulnerable with a population of only 600 to 1,700. The Floreana Mockingbird is currently endangered, but has spent much of the last 20 years listed as critically endangered, its population perilously low. And the Socorro Mockingbird is critically endangered, with a tiny range and possibly fewer than 200 mature individuals remaining.
- Gray Catbird – This member of the Mimidae family also has the ability to mimic songs.
- Song Thrush – The Song Thrush is another skilled mimic, but it belongs to the Turdidae family.
- Blue Jay – Blue Jays are members of the Corvidae family. They are known to mimic the cries of hawks and other birds of prey.
Mockingbird FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What do mockingbirds look like?
Mockingbirds have long, pointed bills and long tails, which can be as long as the rest of their body. Their legs are on the lengthy side as well. Most are shades of gray with various markings, including white stripes and bands. The Brown-backed Mockingbird has a brown back. The Blue Mockingbird is blue, and the Blue-and-white Mockingbird has blue feathers on its upper parts and white plumage below.
How big are mockingbirds?
Mockingbirds seem to range in size from about 8 to 11 inches in length and 1.4 to 2.8 ounces in weight.
What is the mockingbird’s wingspan?
The Northern Mockingbird’s wingspan is 12 to 15 inches. Other species may vary, but most are reported at more than 12 inches.
How many varieties of mockingbirds exist?
There are 14 recognized species of mockingbirds. The Mimus genus includes 12 species, while the Melanotis genus includes just two.
What makes mockingbirds special?
Mockingbirds are exceptional singers and mimics. They can learn up to 200 songs, and although they are diurnal, sometimes they sing through the night.
Where do mockingbirds live?
Mockingbirds live in North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Their habitats includes mostly open areas, sparse forests, forest edges, parks, urban areas, suburban areas, pastures, grasslands, savannas, shrublands, and desert edges.
Do mockingbirds migrate?
Some species are endemic to small islands and do not migrate at all. Other mockingbirds are spread over much larger ranges. Within those species of mockingbirds some individuals migrate, but many do not. For instance, Northern Mockingbirds typically stay put if they live further south, but may migrate if they live in the more northern part of their range.
What do mockingbirds eat?
Mockingbirds eat many types of invertebrates, including insects, spiders, earthworms, crustaceans, snails, and more. They also eat small lizards. During the fall and winter, especially, they eat more seeds, berries and other fruits, both wild and cultivated. Some species eat the eggs of other birds and lizards, nectar, terrestrial crabs, baby turtles, the blood of injured birds, or carrion.
Are mockingbirds aggressive?
Mockingbirds are highly territorial and aggressive birds. They will attack each other in defense of their nests, and they will defend against larger birds and other animals with special calls and displays. They will dive bomb intruders that approach their nests, including humans.
Are mockingbirds intelligent?
Mockingbirds are very intelligent. In addition to being able to mimic birds and other animals, mockingbirds can essentially compose their own songs and can learn new tunes from one another. They are also good at recognizing human faces, and will hold a grudge against people who come too close to their nests.
How many eggs do mockingbirds lay?
The number of eggs per clutch and the number of clutches each year vary. Northern Mockingbirds average about four eggs per clutch, and two to four broods each year.
When do mockingbirds leave the nest?
Northern Mockingbirds typically have an incubation period of about 12 to 14 days, and they leave the nest within about 12 days. Little is reported about the other species.
How long do mockingbirds live?
Northern Mockingbirds live about 8 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. Little is reported about the lifespan of other mockingbirds.
Are mockingbirds rare?
The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species lists the majority of mockingbirds as species of least concern. Some species, however, are quite rare. One is critically endangered and another is currently listed as endangered. Two other species are listed as vulnerable and near threatened.
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- Robert Curry, Available here: https://robertcurrylab.com/sites/darwins-mockingbirds/the-sub-genus-nesomimus/
- National Wildlife Foundation, Available here: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Birds/Northern-Mockingbird
- David E.Gammon, Anna M.Corsiglia, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635719302785
- Dave Gammon, Available here: https://www.elon.edu/u/news/2022/07/29/gammon-presents-in-costa-rica-at-animal-behavior-society-conference/
- Herb Wilson, Available here: https://web.colby.edu/mainebirds/2009/06/27/82/
- Christine M.Stracey, Available here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2011.01.022