How to Identify a Northern Mockingbird

See what a northern mockingbird looks like and where to find them. Plus hear a mockingbird call and learn how they mimic other backyard birds.

What Does a Northern Mockingbird Look Like?

251837697 1 Helen Fojtik Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Helen Fojtik
A northern mockingbird is a medium sized gray bird with a long tail.

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. The northern mockingbird is a medium-size bird, with a small head and long legs. They measure 10-1/2 inches in length with a wingspan of 14 inches.

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.

“This is a northern mockingbird (above) that has claimed my backyard in Wharton, Texas, as his home. What he lacks in colorful plumage, he more than makes up for with a colorful personality. He will serenade you with all the birds songs you know and a few you don’t—usually starting at 3 a.m. This one is always guarding his yard. He will chase cats, squirrels, and all other birds, even those much larger. I never tire of his songs and antics,” says Birds & Blooms reader Helen Fojtik.

  • Common name: Northern mockingbird
  • Scientific Name: Mimus polyglottos
  • Family: Mimic thrush

Diet

northern mockingbirdCourtesy Michele Carter
This mockingbird caught a bug to feed its young.

Mockingbirds feast on insects, fruit and berries. In backyards, they will eat berries, apple slices, peanut butter, suet, mealworms and raisins. Learn more about what foods northern mockingbirds eat.

Habitat and Range Map

Barbara McGiffin
Northern mockingbirds are more common in southern states.

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.

Northern Mockingbird Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Northern Mockingbird Call and Sounds

northern mockingbirdCourtesy Ron Ware
Northern mockingbirds can mimic other birds.

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.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Nest and Eggs

Bnbbyc17 Tammy Rowland 1Courtesy Tammy Rowland
Juvenile mockingbird in the nest

A mockingbird pair builds a cup-shaped nest in the fork of a shrub. The female lays three to six blue or green eggs with brown splotches.

Learn how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find he reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.