Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos
Range Map

The Northern Mockingbird is a very familiar bird in North America and Mexico. These birds make themselves very conspicuous by singing and perching in prominent locations. We can usually differentiate mockingbird songs from other thrashers by their phrasing. Mockingbird songs usually repeat two or three consecutive phrases before they switch to another phrase. Both males and females sing, and may have a repertoire of 200 songs. Mockingbirds are fierce defenders of their territory, and few birds, regardless of size, can resist the onslaught once the chase has begun.

The northern limit to the range for these birds extends further north in the eastern USA (to Maine) than in the west (to southern Oregon), and they are year-round residents in all but the most northern zones which they occupy. Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi all claim the Northern Mockingbird as their state bird. Based on these claims, one might argue the proper name for these birds should be the Southern Mockingbird!

A wide variety of habitats, from urban and suburban, to thorny dry deserts, are all suitable to these hardy birds. Because I grew up in Southern California, most of my encounters with Mockingbirds have been there, but I’ve found them during my explorations all across the state, and in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In February 2017, during a scientific expedition to remote islands 600 miles west of Mexico, I met these birds on Isla Socorro, the same island where Socorro Mockingbirds live. Despite the small size of the island, the Northern and the Socorro Mockingbirds did not mix company. The Northern birds kept to the lower elevations, while the Socorro birds maintained territories in the upper elevation cloud forests.

Modern science recognises three subspecies of Northern Mockingbird:

  • M. p. polyglottos lives in much of North America, from southern Canada south to central Mexico and the Bahamas.
  • M. p. orpheus lives on islands in the Caribbean.
  • M. p. dominicus lives on Hispaniola Island (Haiti and Puerto Rico).

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