The Northern mockingbird is a medium-sized songbird of North America known for its mimicking ability; it's even reflected by the meaning of its scientific name and translates as "many-tongued mimic". The bird has gray to brown upper feathers and a paler belly. There are also parallel wing bars on the half of the wings connected near the white patch which give the Northern mockingbird a distinctive appearance in flight.
Northern mockingbirds breed in southeastern Canada, the United States, northern Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and the Greater Antilles. These birds are generally year-round residents of their range, but the populations that live in the northern portion of their range move further south during the winter season. Northern mockingbirds prefer forest edges and open areas with sparse vegetation. In the eastern regions, suburban and urban areas such as parks and gardens are frequent residential areas. In western regions, desert scrub and chaparral are among their preferred habitats. When foraging for food, Northern mockingbirds prefer short grass.
Northern mockingbirds are active during the day and usually seen singly or in pairs. They forage on the ground or in vegetation and also fly down from a perch to capture their food. While foraging, mockingbirds frequently spread their wings in a peculiar two-step motion to display the white patches. When on the ground they move by hopping, walking, and may even run. Northern mockingbirds are aggressive and territorial birds, especially around prime feeding areas. They use various threat postures to fend off intruders and may even mob and dive at humans if they venture to close to nesting areas. Northern mockingbirds generally communicate with the help of songs and various calls. Both males and females sing, with the latter being generally quieter and less vocal. Males start singing in late January to February and continue into the summer and the establishing of territory into the fall. Females sing less often in the summer and fall and only sing when the male is away from the territory. Northern mockingbirds have four main calls; these include the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call. The hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall. Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used when mockingbirds are disturbed. The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.
Northern mockingbirds are omnivores. They eat insects, earthworms, berries, fruits, seeds, and occasionally lizards. They can drink from puddles, river and lake edges, or dew and rain droplets that amass onto plants. Adult mockingbirds may also drink sap from the cuts on recently pruned trees.
Northern mockingbirds form monogamous pairs that remain together for many years, but incidents of polygyny (one male to several females) have also been reported. These birds breed in the spring and early summer and produce 2-4 broods a year. The males arrive before the beginning of the season to establish their territories. They use a series of courtship displays to attract females to their sites. The males run around the area either to showcase their territory to the females or to pursue the females. The males also engage in a flight to showcase their wings. They sing and call as they perform all of these displays. Both the male and female are involved in the nest building. The male does most of the work, while the female perches on the shrub or tree where the nest is being built to watch for predators. The outer part of the nest is composed of twigs, while the inner part is lined with grasses, dead leaves, moss, or artificial fibers. The female lays 3 to 5 light blue or greenish speckled with dots eggs and incubates them for nearly 2 weeks. The chicks are altricial, meaning that, when hatched, they are born relatively immobile and defenseless and therefore require nourishment for a certain duration from their parents. After about 10 to 15 days of life, the chicks become independent and reach reproductive maturity after one year of life.
Northern mockingbirds are not considered threatened or endangered; however, they suffer from predation, particularly in urban areas. Adult birds can fall victim to birds of prey such as the great horned owl, screech owl, and sharp-shinned hawk. Fledglings are taken by domestic cats, red-tailed hawks, and crows. Eggs and nestlings are consumed by blue jays, fish crows and American crows, red-tailed hawks, swallow-tailed kites, snakes, squirrels, and cats. Another concern is severe weather. Winter storms limit the expansion of mockingbirds in their range. The storms have played a role in the decline of the populations in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and likely in Quebec. Dry seasons also affect the mockingbird populations in Arizona.
According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Northern mockingbird is around 45,000,000 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the species is 32 million breeding birds. Overall, currently, Northern mockingbirds are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, and their numbers today are stable.
Northern mockingbirds play an important role in their ecosystem. These birds help to disperse seeds throughout their habitat and also control populations of various insects they feed on.