The northern mockingbird
is a medium-sized songbird measuring about 23 cm (about 9 in.) and weighing
about 50 g (about 2 oz.), with longish legs and tail and a slightly curved
The grayish-brown color,
two parallel white wing bars and broad white wing patch, which is easily
seen in flight, distinguish this bird from its cousins, the brown thrasher
and the catbird.
RANGE AND HABITAT
A non-migrating, year-round
resident of all areas of the United States, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Mexico,
the mockingbird is commonly seen in short, grassy lawn areas, which they
prefer when foraging for insects. For this reason, it is quite fond of
suburban mowed lawns. It is not common in dense forest interiors but can
be seen at forest edges.
The mockingbird is omnivorous.
About half its diet consists of arthropods, including beetles, ants, bees,
wasps, and grasshoppers, but it will also eat earthworms and small lizards.
These aggressive feeders can often be observed chasing down a grasshopper
on a lawn, running, hopping and lunging at the prey, or flying just above
the ground maneuvering behind a large wasp. They are also fond of zebra
butterflies (Heliconius charitonius), which are commonly available in southern
Florida. In the fall or whenever available at a feeder, the mockingbird
enjoys eating fruits, both wild and cultivated.
The mockingbird is monogamous,
usually for the length of a breeding season, and occasionally mates for
life. Some pairs in southern Florida have been known to stay together for
at least eight years (their average lifespan in the wild).
In the spring, mockingbirds
can be seen performing their swift, acrobatic flights, male chasing female,
often accompanied by the exchange of soft "hew" calls, repeatedly perching
next to each other and taking off again. It is estimated that this behavior
may assist the birds in sizing up the general health of the potential mate
to make sure that it is of good breeding stock, so to speak. Other observed
displays include jumping from a perch, flapping wings to ascend perhaps
one meter, then parachuting with open wings back down to the perch again.
Mockingbirds build and
use several nests during the breeding season, laying two or three eggs
in each nest. In Florida, nest building starts as early as late February,
although March is more common.
The nests are built
low to the ground in shrubs and trees, usually between one and three meters
high, mostly by the male using dead twigs lined with grasses and dead leaves
and/or human artifacts such as paper, foil, plastics, and even shredded
Eggs are smooth and oval,
about 18 mm x 24 mm (.75 in. x 1 in.). They can be bluish gray or greenish
white to darker shades of blue and green, and heavily marked with spots,
blotches and short scrawls in various shades of brown. In southern Florida,
the female bird incubates the eggs for 12-13 days, while the male forages
for food and defends the territory from intruders. Both parents feed the
hatchlings and defend the eggs and hatchlings against potential predators.
Many Floridians have
experienced the wrath of the mockingbird defending its nest. Fiercely territorial,
male mockingbirds have been known to recognize individual humans and will
selectively attack them while ignoring other humans who pass by. Although
we rarely intend to disturb nests, this behavior is not completely in vain.
In southern Florida it has been noted that the strength of attacks against
potential predators is directly associated with nesting success.
During the two-week period
that the nest is in use, it is best to avoid the area and to advise children
and visitors do the same. As a native, non-game migratory song bird, the
mocker is protected against harm or molestation by local, state and federal
In addition to their
renown bravado, mockingbirds are revered songsters. These birds have extraordinarily
diverse repertoires acquired through imitating the calls, songs and parts
of songs of other birds, other animals such as dogs and cats, humans, mechanical
sounds, and even the sounds of other mockingbirds.
VALUE / IMPORTANCE TO
Mockingbirds are natural
pest controllers, consuming large quantities of beetles, ants, wasps, and
grasshoppers. By eating a variety of berries and other fruits, they also
assist plants by dispersing seeds. And their beautiful singing is an invaluable
accompaniment to suburban life in South Florida.
CAUSES OF ENDANGERMENT
The mockingbird flourishes
in developed, suburban areas, because of its fondness of mowed lawns. It
also thrives in land developed for agriculture, as fruit is a favorite
part of the mockingbird diet.
Mockingbirds are extremely
territorial and become defensive against potential predators. If you or
your child or pet approaches a nest, either knowingly or otherwise, the
mockingbird will defend its nest by swooping and chasing the intruder.
No known harm has resulted in attacks from mockingbirds. This behavior
is temporary and will only continue for as long as there are hatchlings
in the nest (about two weeks).
- Attracting the Northern
- Compton's Encyclopedia
- Kale, H.W. Florida's
Birds: A handbook and Reference. Pineapple Press. (c1990.)
- Longstreet, R.J. Birds
in Florida. Trend House. (1965)
- Mockingbird. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/wild/birds/mockbird.htm
- Northern Mockingbird.
- The State of Florida.