The Northern Mockingbird (Minus polyglottus) is known for its tuneful songs and expert mimicry of other birds’ calls. They continue to add more melodies to their vast repertoire as they age, with around 150 distinct songs by late adulthood. But do these impressive singing skills have any impact on their ability to survive in the wild? Read on to discover more about the expected lifespan of these tuneful warblers.
The average lifespan for a mockingbird in the wild is around 8 years, although on occasions, individual birds have been recorded to have lived beyond 14 years. For captive birds, maximum life expectancy can be much longer.
With protection from the hazards and predators found in their natural habitat, captive mockingbirds can live up to 20 years. However, it is not encouraged to keep mockingbirds as pets, and an increased demand by the pet trade in the 19th century led to a severe decline in their numbers.
Wild mockingbird populations have since recovered, and today, they are among the most widespread birds in the United States. To find out more about their life cycle and factors that affect their survivorship, please read on!
The average lifespan of a Northern Mockingbird in the wild is around 8 years
In the wild, the average maximum lifespan of a mockingbird is around 8 years, although individual birds may survive longer. The rate of survival for juveniles is fairly low, but once a mockingbird has made it to adulthood, it stands a greater chance of reaching between 6 and 8 years.
Mockingbirds have been recorded to live up to 20 years in captivity.
In the 19th century, mockingbirds were commonly kept as caged birds, and viewed as highly attractive pets, due to their beautiful songs and ability to mimic a vast range of sounds. Even President Thomas Jefferson famously owned one, named Dick.
For captive birds, threats of predation by cats are removed, and a guaranteed source of food, water, and warmth are provided, counteracting many of the natural challenges faced by mockingbirds in the wild.
Close up of a mockingbird perched on a branch
Juvenile mockingbirds, particularly recent fledglings, commonly fall prey to domestic cats; cats were found to be responsible for 70 percent of attacks on mockingbird nests. Survival of young mockingbirds in urban areas with a large number of pet cats can fall as low as 10 percent.
Other causes of death include disease, starvation, habitat loss, and in some urban areas, environmental contamination, e.g. lead poisoning or pesticides.
Northern mockingbirds reach sexual maturity at one year of age. The male uses his extensive collection of impressive warblings to attract a female, and unmated males can regularly be heard to sing for up to 24 hours a day in pursuit of a partner to breed with.
Mockingbirds form monogamous pairs and typically stay together for the entire breeding season. Occasionally they have been known to mate for life. Females lay a clutch of between two and six eggs, which they then incubate for almost two weeks. Between two and four broods are raised each year.
Mockingbird hatchlings are fed in the nest by both parents, and by day 12, they are ready to leave the nest. Fledglings continue to be fed and cared for by both males and females for up to three weeks before gaining independence.
Young birds are particularly vulnerable to attack from cats, Fish crows, Red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels. Both parents continue to be highly protective over their young, dive-bombing potential predators and noisly harassing any bird, animal, or human they perceive as a threat.
If a mockingbird survives into adulthood, there is a good chance that it will reach between 6 and 8 years of age.
Northern Mockingbird chicks in the nest
Despite mockingbirds being highly noisy and aggressive defenders of their breeding territories, their nests, eggs, and hatchlings are regularly targeted by raccoons, possums, snakes, and crows. In urban areas, juvenile birds are at high risk of predation by domestic cats. Hawks and other birds of prey also target fledglings, as well as adult mockingbirds.
Research has demonstrated that mockingbirds have an incredible sense of recall, and can remember previous threats to their territory and even faces of people who disturbed them in the past. They are highly aggressive birds and will attack if they think their own survival is at stake.
It is unclear whether mockingbirds rely on their ability to mimic the calls of other birds as a defense against predators. Some research suggests that mockingbirds copy the calls of other birds to trick potential threats into thinking that a larger bird awaits and therefore, it’s not worth the risk of attack.
Other sources disagree, stating that the calls are mimicked purely because the mockingbirds like mastering different sounds and enjoy working their way through their repertoire.
Northern Mockingbird eating mealworms from a feeder during the winter
One of the oldest wild mockingbirds is thought to have reached more than 14 years 10 months, when it was found dead in Texas in 2000, having been ringed as an adult in 1986. Navigating the first year of life is a major challenge for juvenile mockingbirds, but once adulthood is reached, there is a greater chance of living a longer life.
Mockingbirds constantly forage for food, from first light until sunset, or even longer in well-lit urban areas. No data exists as to how long they can survive without food, but as in optimal conditions, they need to feed constantly and regularly, so it is safe to assume that they do not have enormous reserves to fall back on.
Mockingbird perched on a rock
Mockingbirds are year-round residents in many regions of the U.S. although some birds from the northernmost populations do migrate south to avoid the harshest winter conditions. Populations can suffer in particularly severe winters; for example, mockingbird numbers in Ohio noticeably declined following the “cold wave” of 1976-78.
Northern mockingbirds are fiercely territorial, not just over their nesting sites but on their winter territories too, and compete with robins, starlings, and woodpeckers for winter berries and fruits, so they rely heavily on their tenacity to obtain enough food to survive the winter months.
Mockingbirds are not currently classed as endangered or threatened, with up to 45 million birds in the United States. They are, however, protected by federal and state law, and it is illegal to kill or capture a mockingbird, to take their eggs, or disturb their nesting sites.
Mockingbird numbers did decline during the 19th century, when they became a fashionable and sought-after pet due to their beautiful melodies. Particularly on the east coast of the U.S., wild populations witnessed a severe decline.
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