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Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos

Length: 10.5 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Gray overall, white wing patches, long tail, short dark bill.

Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos One of the ultimate imitators, the Northern Mockingbird is able to imitate not only the songs of many species of birds, but may sometimes repeat other sounds from the meow of a cat to the tinkle of wind chimes.  The Northern Mockingbird is a bold defender of its nest site, attempting to chase away anything (including people) that come too close for its comfort.  South Dakota is at the northern edge of its range, although it has been expanding its range to the north in recent decades.  They are increasingly rare as one moves northward from the Nebraska/South Dakota border.


Northern Mockingbirds can be found in a variety of habitats, but prefer mixed habitats with open ground and dense thickets and shrubs, including fencerows, riparian areas, residential areas, and roadsides. 


Mostly insects and fruit.  The diet in the summer generally primarily consists of animal protein, particularly while raising young. Opportunists, their protein-based diet may also include earthworms, snails, small crustaceans, and small vertebrates such as amphibians and lizards. The diet outside the breeding season may shift to a heavier proportion of vegetable matter.


Does much of its foraging by walking on the ground.  Will also observe from a perch and fly out to capture insects spotted on the ground or in vegetation below.


June and July. Northern Mockingbirds may nest in a variety of shrubs and trees, generally 5 to 10 feet from the ground but sometimes much higher. The male initiates breeding by typically constructing multiple "starter nests", letting his mate choose the nest site she deems most suitable. The male's starter nest is a loose construction of twigs, which the female then firms up and develops into a cup, lined with finer material that may include almost any vegetative or other material near the nest site, including grasses, roots, weed stems, hair, feathers, or bits of man-made material. The female lays between 3 and 12 eggs, with she alone incubating them. The young hatch after about 12 to 14 days, with both parents helping to feed them. However, Northern Mockingbirds sometimes produce more than one brood per breeding season, and the female may leave the first nest while the young still haven't fledged, finishing another of the male's starter nests, laying new eggs, and initiating a 2nd brood. The male finishes raising the first brood's young in this situation.

Songs / Calls:

As the name implies, Northern Mockingbirds are incredibly skilled vocalists, capable of an extremely wide array of calls and songs. The typical song of a Northern Mockingbird is a long series of varied phrases, with each phrase often repeated 2 or 3 times, and then a slight pause as they shift to a different phrase. Given Northern Mockingbirds can provide calls that sounds like whistles, musical warbling, nasal whining, harsh chattering, and a variety of other sounds, the songs and vocalizations can be unpredictable and even vary widely between birds found in the same area. That unpredictability becomes even more pronounced given that Northern Mockingbirds often learn the songs of the birds around them, or even the vocalizations of frogs and other animals.

Here are some example vocalizations of a Northern Mockingbird:


Generally a permanent resident throughout its range, with some northern birds moving south in the fall.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Mockingbird sightings

Bird Feeders:

Northern Mockingbirds will sometimes attend feeders for fruit, suet, and bread.

Similar Species:

Size and structure differentiate the Northern Mockingbird from some other "gray" songbirds, but there are a few species that might possible cause some identification challenges in the normal range of the species:

Townsend's Solitaire - Myadestes townsendi Townsend's Solitaire - Myadestes townsendi Gray Catbird 7 - Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird 2 - Dumetella carolinensis
Townsend's Solitaire Townsend's Solitaire Gray Catbird Gray Catbird

Conservation Status:

Northern Mockingbirds were once captured for the pet trade, and wild populations sharply declined. Numbers have increased since then, and systematic surveys over the last few decades show generally stable populations. There are some indications that they are now expanding their range to the north as well. Overall, they are found across a very broad geographic area, are common in parts of that range, and overall numbers are strong. The IUCN considers the Northern Mockingbird to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

 March 26th, 2009 - Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Henderson, Nevada -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Mockingbird photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Northern Mockingbird - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant and summer resident. Honestly, the range map above is pretty optimistic on the northern part. While birds may appear in South Dakota and points northward, they're not generally considered "permanent" breeding birds by any means in most far northern areas depicted on this map.

Additional Northern Mockingbird Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Northern Mockingbird 1 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 2 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 3 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 4 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 5 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 6 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 7 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 8 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 9 - Mimus polyglottosNorthern Mockingbird 10 - Mimus polyglottos