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10 Fast Facts About Northern Mockingbirds

There's more to this flying copycat than meets the eye . . . or ear.

The Northern Mockingbird is one of North America’s most beloved mimics. The skilled singer has also become inextricable from American popular culture, providing inspiration for the fictional "Mockingjay" of the Hunger Games franchise to being a central theme in the iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. John James Audubon was a fan of the mocker as well. Here are some facts you might not have known about this American classic.

  1. There are a total of 16 avian species in the world with the name “mockingbird,” but the Northern Mockingbird is the only one native to the United States. Other nearby species include the elusive Blue Mockingbird of Mexico and the island-dwelling Bahama Mockingbird, both of which can occasionally appear in the U.S. 
     
  2. The Northern Mockingbird is a year-round resident across much of the U.S., but an expansion into the northeast has been successful due in part to the multiflora rose, or rambler rose. Native to Asia, this invasive rosebush was introduced to the United States in the late 1700s as a root stock for ornamental roses. It makes an ideal nest site for mockingbirds because of its tasty berries and thick tangle of branches. (Editor's note: If you want to provide food and shelter for the Northern Mockingbird and other backyard favorites with native plants, try our handy native plants database.) 
     
  3. The mockingbird's latin name is Mimus polyglottos, which literally translates to “many-tongued mimic.” A polyglot is a person who speaks many languages, referencing the bird’s ability to imitate sounds from its environment. While mockingbirds are known to sing several hundred different songs, some research suggests that they might not learn to copy new sounds in adulthood, as previously thought.
     
  4. A study released in October 2019 found that, in addition to mimicking the calls of other birds and manmade noises like music and machinery, Northern Mockingbirds have been known to imitate at least 12 different species of North American frogs and toads. In fact, John James Audubon was so in awe of this bird's singing ability, he wrote of the Northern Mockingbird in Birds of America, “There is probably no bird in the world that possesses all the musical qualifications of this king of song, who has derived all from Nature's self." 
     
  5. Because of the Northern Mockingbird’s impressive vocal talents, the illegal pet trade depleted their populations by poaching wild birds across the east coast in the 19th century. The best singers were worth up to $50 in 1828—that’s more than $1,300 in today’s dollars.
     
  6. Northern Mockingbirds have easily adapted to human development, taking up residence across suburban towns and cities. Wide-open lawns and parks are perfect for hunting their insect prey, and males often sing from perches like the tops of houses and telephone poles, where their performance can involve leaping into the air and fluttering back down.  
     
  7. Mockers are prolific breeders. They have been known to make as many as seven nesting attempts during a breeding season, and one female even set an astonishing record of laying 27 eggs in a single season.
     
  8. The white patches on a Northern Mockingbird’s wings and outer tail feathers serve dual purposes: The birds often show off these plumes during mating rituals, and they also flash them when defending their territory from potential predators like hawks and snakes. 
     
  9. Mockingbirds can be extraordinarily territorial. They've been known to swoop and dive at pretty much anything, including people, that gets close to theirs nests, which are usually placed between 3 and 10 feet off the ground. They will also regularly chase other birds away from their preferred food sources, like fruit-bearing trees, in the winter. 
     
  10. The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. In true Texas fashion, the 1927 legislation declaring the Northern Mockingbird the state’s official bird reasoned that the species is “a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan."
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