How to Identify a Northern Mockingbird

Updated: Jul. 10, 2024

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.

Northern Mockingbird Identification

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

A slender bird about the size of a robin, the northern mockingbird is easy to spot. This species is light gray with white wing bars and a long tail. Males and females are nearly identical.

Northern mockingbirds are quite fun to watch. While on the ground, they will often quickly flash their white wing patches to startle insects.

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

How to Attract Northern Mockingbirds

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

Mockingbirds aren’t often found at feeders, as they prefer insects and small fruits to nuts and seeds. Try setting out raisins or grapes to attract these cuties. To nest, they may create cup nests in dense backyard shrubs. They also splash about in birdbaths that are maintained year-round. And if the water’s moving, that’s even better.

To attract mockingbirds, explore Audubon’s Plants for Birds native plant database for economically friendly ways to incorporate fruits and insects in your backyard.

Habitat and Range Map

Barbara McGiffin
Northern mockingbirds are more common in southern states.

This nonmigratory species can be seen throughout the contiguous United States, although it is only a rare visitor to many areas in the northern U.S. Its range has dramatically extended northward over the past 70 years, partially because of people planting bushes and trees that bear winter fruit. Often in open urban areas and shrublands, these birds hang out at the edge of bushes, close to eye level.

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. Northern mockingbirds have their own call (a loud tchack), but when it comes to their songs, all bets are off. 

If you think you’re hearing a blackbird, jay or hawk out the kitchen window, think again! It just might be a northern mockingbird.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Meet the most musical songbirds in America.

Remarkable Mimics

The mimicry abilities of these birds are almost unbelievable. “They incorporate songs or sounds of other species that they define as ‘in their territory,’” says Geoff LeBaron, the Christmas Bird Count director for the National Audubon Society.

Mockingbirds spout endless strings of songs—often dozens in a row. These birds may do a perfect imitation of another species’ call but will repeat the sound rapidly, up to 10 times in a row, before switching to a different sound and repeating that one.

The primary benefit of their impressive imitation skills is outlining, to other mockingbirds, the boundaries of their turf. “They have song posts in various places around the edge of their territory, and that’s where they go to sing,” says Geoff. They’re known to sing through the day and night, particularly males without a mate. Male songs are prevalent through the breeding season, and females sing as well, though often much more softly.

Learn more about bird mimics and mimicry.

Bold Personality

Northern Mockingbird Bnm0341Bill Leaman
Adult northern mockingbird on juniper

“Mockingbirds have a lot of personality, sometimes too much,” says Geoff with a laugh. “They are not exactly cryptic.” This species can be confrontational with other mockingbirds, birds of similar size, and even with humans or pets that venture too close.

Learn what a gray catbird looks like.

Nest, Eggs and Juvenile Mockingbirds

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.

Juveniles look similar to adult birds but they sport specks on their chests.

Next, learn how to identify a brown thrasher.

About the Expert

Geoff LeBaron is the Christmas Bird Count director for the National Audubon Society. He previously worked in the ornithology department at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Geoff earned a master’s degree in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island.