December High Desert Bird of the Month: Northern Mockingbird
Mockingbirds have a small head, a long, thin bill with a hint of a downward curve, and long legs. Their wings are short, rounded, and broad, making the tail seem particularly long in flight.
They are overall gray-brown, paler on the breast and belly, with two white wingbars on each wing. A white patch in each wing is often visible on perched birds, and in flight these become large white flashes. The white outer tail feathers are also flashy in flight.
Mockingbirds' diet consists of insects, fruits, crustaceans & small vertebrates. They forage in foliage and on the ground.
Mockingbirds readily eat suet, sunflower seed and nuts.
Fun Facts About Mockingbirds
- Since the early 1900’s, the Northern Mockingbird has been expanding its range northward along the east and west coasts of the United States and into southern Canada. The increased development of farmland and suburban areas, along with the planting of fruit-bearing ornamental shrubs and trees has probably aided their move northward.
- The Northern Mockingbird earned its name because of its ability to mimic the calls of dozens of other bird species, along with numerous other animal and mechanical sounds. In fact, the mockingbird's Latin name, Mimus polyglottus, means many-tongued mimic.
- Northern Mockingbirds have been known to so skillfully imitate sounds such as squeaky gate hinges, sirens, and barking dogs that even an acoustical analysis could not tell the difference between the mockingbird and the original sound.
- Mockingbirds are such entertaining imitators of other bird calls that at one time they were sold in pet stores as mimic songbirds.
- A Northern Mockingbird may have a repertoire of over 200 different songs and it continues to add new songs to its collection throughout its life.
- While the Northern Mockingbird sings mainly during the months of February through November, the songs it sings during the spring are almost totally (99%) different from the ones it sings in the fall.
- Northern Mockingbirds are noisy and relentless singers that are known to sing well into the night, especially during periods when the moon is bright. The majority of these night-time vocalists are bachelor males, apparently bent on letting the world know that they are alone and available.
- During their long nocturnal serenades, Northern Mockingbirds are capable of singing over 1,000 songs per hour.
- Northern Mockingbirds are known to harass dogs and cats found in their territory by constantly diving and swooping at them.
- Northern Mockingbirds are known to open their wings to “flash” their large white wing patches while running or walking on the ground. The purpose for this in not understood, but it may be an attempt to find insects by startling them into moving. It might also be a scare tactic to warn off potential predators.
- Due to their aggressive behavior, there is some evidence that indicates that Northern Mockingbirds may fall victim to hawks and owls less frequently then other birds of their same size.
- Northern Mockingbirds aggressively defend their nest and are know to attack and mob potential predators (and people) that approach too close.
- Northern Mockingbirds have been known to identify individual people who repeatedly encroach into their nesting territory and will selectively harass them. In contrast, they will ignore new people that are just passing through their territory.
- Northern Mockingbirds are typically monogamous, at least through the breeding season, with some pairs staying together for life. Research has recorded some mated pairs staying together for as long as eight years.
- Adult Northern Mockingbirds will spend most, if not all of the year living together in their territory.
- Nest building by Northern Mockingbirds is a cooperative undertaking with the male mainly building the twig foundation of the nest and the female constructing its lining.
- Northern Mockingbirds will have two to three broods of young per year. Each brood will overlap with the female incubating the next set of eggs while the male tends to the needs of the new fledglings from the previous nest.
- Each brood consists of an average of 3-5 eggs; the female does all the incubation while the male defends their territory. Both parents feed the nestlings.
- Northern Mockingbird fledglings become independent from their parents around three weeks after leaving the nest. They will disperse to new areas in search of their own territory, sometimes moving up to 200 miles from where they were born.
- The diet of the Northern Mockingbird consists of about equal amounts of fruits and arthropods (insects & spiders). The fruits consist of wild and cultivated varieties including grapes, apples, barberries, hawthorn, elderberries and rose hips. Their favorite insects include: butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers.
- Northern Mockingbirds will eat cicadas by using their wings to knock these large insects to the ground in order to capture them with their bill.
- Northern Mockingbirds will visit feeding stations, especially in winter where they dine on fruit, mealworms and suet. They often bully other birds away from feeding areas, even if it contains foods they do not like.
- You can keep Northern Mockingbirds from becoming a bully at your feeders by creating a feeding area just for them. Place this second set of feeders as far away from your original feeders as possible and fill them with goodies such as suet, mealworms, grapes, cranberries, dried fruit mixes, and raisins. They will like this food better and go nuts trying to defend both feeding areas.
- The fruit or hip of the non-native, invasive Multiflora Rose plant is a favorite winter food of the Northern Mockingbird. This relationship has benefited each species by assisting both in the expanding their ranges during the past century.
- The oldest Mockingbird found living in the wild was almost 15 years old.
- The Northern Mockingbird is the official state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.