BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

northern mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos

What do they look like?

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Rylander, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    47 to 51 g
    1.66 to 1.80 oz
  • Range length
    20.8 to 25.5 cm
    8.19 to 10.04 in

Where do they live?

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. (Rylander, 2002; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003; Wild Birds Forever, Date Unknown)

What kind of habitat do they need?

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. (Nature of New England, 2003; Rylander, 2002; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003)

How do they reproduce?

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Holoweb, 2001; Rylander, 2002)

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Holoweb, 2001; Rylander, 2002)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    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
  • Average eggs per season
    4
    AnAge
  • 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

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Gough, et al., 1998; Sprott and Mazzotti, 2001)

  • 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

How long do they live?

Northern mockingbirds have been known to live up to 8 years in the wild. Captive northern mockingbirds have lived up to 20 years. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Sprott and Mazzotti, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    178 months
    Bird Banding Laboratory

How do they behave?

Northern mockingbirds are excellent singers. They can perform at least 39 different songs and 50 different call notes. Northern mockingbirds can also imitate sounds that they hear. For example, the may imitate dogs barking or the songs of other birds.

Northern mockingbirds are solitary and territorial. During the nesting season, they are very aggressive. They attack animals that come into their territory, even big animals like cats, dogs and humans

Northern mockingbirds are diurnal. This means that they are active during the day. Some northern mockingbirds are migratory. Most mockingbirds that breed in the north fly south for the winter. Those that nest in the southern part of the range stay in the same area year-round. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

How do they communicate with each other?

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Rylander, 2002; Sprott and Mazzotti, 2001)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

What do they eat?

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 lizards.

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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Gough, et al., 1998; Holoweb, 2001; Rylander, 2002; Wild Birds Forever, Date Unknown)

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Adult northern mockingbirds are killed by sharp-shinned hawks, screech owls, scrub jays and great horned owls. Females that are incubating eggs are sometimes killed by snakes.

Blue jays, fish crows, American crows, snakes 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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

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 cowbird species 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. (Derrickson and Breitwisch, 1992; Sprott and Mazzotti, 2001)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

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. (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

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. (Sprott and Mazzotti, 2001; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

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. (Karl, 2000)

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Eve Breitmeyer (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

mimicry

imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland
savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland
urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

International Birding Information Resource Data. 2000. ""Northern Mockingbird"" (On-line). i-bird.com. Accessed March 20, 2003 at http://www.i-bird.com/.

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.

Enature.com, 2003. "Birds: Northern Mockingbird" (On-line). Enature.com. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.enature.com/fieldguide/showSpeciesGS.asp?sort=1&curGroupID=99&display=1&area=99&searchText=northern+mockingbird&curPageNum=1&recnum=BD0136.

Gough, G., J. Sauer, M. Iliff. 1998. "Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter" (On-line). Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/infocenter.html.

Holoweb, 2001. ""Northern Mockingbird: Mimus polyglottos" (On-line). Animals Identified on the Property or Known to Live in South East Minnesota. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.holoweb.com/cannon/northergn.htm.

Karl, J. 2000. "Mimus polyglottos (Northern mockingbird)" (On-line). Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/bio/birds/sngbrd/thrashr/nomo/nomo_mai.htm.

Nature of New England, 2003. ""Northern Mockingbird"" (On-line). Nature of New England. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.nenature.com/NorthernMockingbird.htm.

Rylander, K. 2002. ""Northern Mockingbird"" (On-line). The Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/NN/tbn1.html.

Sprott, P., F. Mazzotti. 2001. "Mockingbirds (mimus polyglottos)" (On-line). Edis. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_UW094.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 2003. "“Nature: Northern Mockingbird”" (On-line). Texas Parks and Wildlife. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/factsheets/birds/mockingbird/mockingbird.htm.

Wild Birds Forever, Date Unknown. "Attracting the Northern Mockingbird" (On-line). Wild Birds Forever. Accessed April 15, 2004 at http://www.birdsforever.com/mock.html.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Breitmeyer, E. 2004. "Mimus polyglottos" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2014, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan