Illustration: Northern mockingbird

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt

Map

Map: Northern mockingbird range

Audio

This very common, conspicuous mimid of the southern United States is known for its loud, mimicking song, often heard during spring and  summer nights in suburban neighborhoods. Both sexes aggressively defend nesting and feeding territories. They flash their white outer tail feathers and white wing patches conspicuously during courtship and territorial displays. Seen often on wires and fences in towns, the Northern often feeds on berries during the winter. Monotypic. Length 10" (25 cm).

Identification Sexes similar. Adult: about the size of an American robin, but thinner and longer tailed. Upperparts gray, unstreaked; underparts grayish white, unstreaked; long black tail has white outer tail feathers; conspicuous white wing bars; white patch at the base of primaries contrasts with blacker wings. Black line through a yellow eye. Bill relatively short and straight. Juvenile: un­der­­parts can be heavily spotted; upperparts with pale edging give back and head a streaked appearance; black line through eye less distinct; eye darker.

Similar Species The loggerhead shrike is similarly colored, but note distinct shape differences, particularly in the bill; shrike lacks white wing bars and has more extensive black mask.

Voice Call: a loud, sharp check. Song: long, complex song consisting of a mixture of original and imitative phrases, each repeated several times. Excellent mimic of other bird species. Often sings at night.

Status and Distribution Common and conspicuous. Breeding: nests in a variety of habitats, including suburban neighborhoods. Migration: birds in the northern portion of range and at higher elevations migrate south during fall and winter. Birds in the southern portion of range are resident. Vagrant: birds are found casually north of mapped range.

Population Range is expanding as a result of urbanization and creation of disturbed habitats.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

Bird Features

  • Photo: A red bird with black wings on a branch

    Backyard Birding Central

    Want to learn more about our feathered friends of the sky? Visit our Backyard Birding site for facts, photos, videos, and more.

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

See More Bird Features »

Bird News

See More Animal News »

Birds A-Z

National Geographic Magazine

  • Photo: bowerbird mating game between female and male bowerbirds.

    Bowerbirds Gallery

    To woo a "Mary," bowerbirds decorate with shells, cans, even pink paper clips.

  • Photo: Female whooping crane feeding her young

    Counting Cranes

    How many whooping cranes are there? Not enough. See photos of these birds in action.