Northern mockingbirds may not be the flashiest birds in your backyard, but they’re some of the most talkative. Learn more about what makes these birds sing and how you can attract them to your backyard, if they aren’t there already!
These slim, pale gray songbirds may not have feathers in eye-catching colors, but they can still be distinguished from other birds by their long tails and white wing patches. Northern mockingbirds are medium size, with small heads and long legs.
Males and females have identical markings. To distinguish between them, observe their behavior: Males sing more than females. To identify a juvenile northern mockingbird, look for dark streaks on its chest.
Northern mockingbirds are big berry fans. Attract them with ornamental berry bushes like elderberry, blackberry, juniper and pokeweed. As omnivores, northern mockingbirds eat insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles in summer, and rely on berries in winter. Although it’s uncommon for northern mockingbirds to stop by seed feeders, you can entice them to your yard with a suet feeder or with sliced fruit like oranges and apples.
They may have “north” in their name, but northern mockingbirds are most common in southern regions of the United States. (They are “northern” because other mockingbird species live in the tropics.) Northern mockingbirds forage along the ground, so they prefer grassy habitats with dense shrubbery. They’re not too picky, and are happy to make their homes in towns and cities, or in more open areas like farms, woodland edges and desert canyons.
Even if you’ve never seen a northern mockingbird, you’ve probably heard one. They start singing at dawn and continue into the evening, though most nighttime crooners are unmated males. Northern mockingbirds have their own call (a loud tchack), but when it comes to their songs, all bets are off. They mimic what they hear around them and turn sounds into repeated phrases. Northern mockingbirds can successfully imitate other birds-—orioles, shrikes, jays, hawks and many more—but their copycat moves don’t stop there. They’ve been known to mimic frogs, barking dogs, sirens and pianos, too.
Backyard Tips for Attracting Northern Mockingbirds
Field Editors share their favorite mockingbird moments and tips.
To attract mockingbirds, I purchase unsalted roasted peanuts and chop them very fine in my food processor. As soon as a mockingbird sees the peanuts on the feeding logs, it swoops in. This particular mockingbird didn’t even mind me sitting a few feet away, taking photos. (Doreen Damn of New Port Richey, Florida)
We don’t have to work too hard to get mockingbirds in our yard. They are everywhere! They’ve never taken to our feeders, but they do like our berry bushes: blueberry, dogwood, raspberry, pyracantha, etc. Whatever berries are in season, the mockingbirds are first in line at the buffet! (Arlene Tencza of Waxhaw, North Carolina)