The Northern mockingbird is a year-round resident throughout all 48 contiguous states, parts of southern Canada, and much of Mexico and the Greater Antilles.
This subtly beautiful bird has a complex mimicking song that gives mockingbirds their name. Northern mockingbirds are flexible and live in a range of habitats: this is a guide to Northern mockingbird nesting.
Northern mockingbirds generally live in open scrubby environments but have adapted to urban and suburban environments. Nests are built at a fairly low height of 1 to 3m (3 to 10ft) and consist of a small cup constructed from small twigs, foliage, moss, and synthetic discarded human items.
Nest building is a cooperative exercise for these chiefly monogamous birds. Northern mockingbirds may build several nests in one season but won’t use all of them. Many pairs raise multiple broods, perhaps as many as three in a warm year.
Of course, there is much more to learn about the beautiful Northern mockingbird - read on to discover more!
Mockingbird feeding insects to newly hatched chicks inside of the nest
Northern mockingbirds occupy a wide range of habitats across their range, but mainly prefer relatively flat, open areas at low to mid-altitudes.
Northern populations do, however, nest in mountainous uplands but head down to lower altitudes during winter.
Nests are typically built in shrubs and trees at the height of 1 to 3m or so. Some 30 to 40 species of trees and shrubs were used as nesting sites in Louisiana and Florida.
They occasionally nest in the rafters of buildings. Studies found that dense, low-lying shrubs produce the most successful nests. As Northern mockingbirds become more common in urban areas, they’ve started nesting in a wide variety of synthetic and humanmade objects and constructions.
Northern mockingbirds are usually residents across their range, though some northern populations migrate. They maintain their territories throughout the breeding season, but the nests themselves are rarely reused.
Instead, the male builds one to three nests before the breeding season starts, in late winter or early spring (later in the north). The pair then selects a nest for the first brood. Multiple nests are constructed throughout the breeding season.
If the backyard contains some small trees and dense shrubs, then mockingbirds can certainly make their home there.
Dense vines, bushes, and shrubs provide excellent nesting sites for these birds - they’re particularly fond of species such as honeysuckle and fruiting bushes like blackberry or mulberry.
While Northern mockingbirds nest in backyards, they’re not too fond of feeding from bird feeders as they prefer to forage from the ground.
Northern Mockingbirds often build their nests in dense shrubbery, which helps protect their chicks and eggs from predation
Northern mockingbirds rarely use typical bird boxes. However, if the bird box was open-fronted and mounted at a low height of 1 to 3m (3 to 10ft), then it’s possible.
Overall, mockingbirds prefer to build their own intricate low-lying nests hidden in small trees and dense foliage. You’re better off supporting them by providing fruiting bushes like blackberry and mulberry rather than by providing nesting boxes.
Northern mockingbirds have no particular preference for what species of trees they nest in. Studies show they nest in as many as 30 to 40 different species of small trees and bushes.
However, they’re unlikely to nest in tall trees with a high lower story, as they prefer to build their nests at the height of 1 to 3m (3 to 10ft). A few nests have been observed in tall trees up to a maximum height of 18m (60ft), but this is rare.
Generally speaking, Northern mockingbirds prefer to build nests at the relatively low height of 1 to 3m (3 to 10ft). Some nests have been built at heights of up to 18m (60ft), but this is rare.
Hungry mockingbird chicks inside of the nest
Northern mockingbird nests are small open-topped cups built from small twigs that form the nest's inner portion and larger twigs that form the outer portion.
Grasses, roots, dead leaves, mosses, and human objects such as foil, plastic, and paper are used. The resulting nest is compact and neat.
There’s little formal data on how big Northern mockingbird nests are. However, they’re probably around 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) wide, judging by the size of the bird itself.
Mockingbirds build small, open-topped cup nests in short trees, shrubs, and bushes up to a height of around 3m (12ft).
Some Northern mockingbirds build nests higher in trees up to a height of around 60ft, but this is rare. Nests at lower heights are more likely to be successful.
The nest of a Mockingbird inside of a rose bush - four unhatched eggs inside
In some states, such as Florida, Northern mockingbirds begin nesting as early as February and continue until August. During that time, they may try to make as many as six nesting attempts.
In most regions, however, nesting gets underway in April. Nesting continues for two to three broods until mid to late August. In the north, populations start nesting some 3 to 5 weeks later than in the south.
In some cases, Northern mockingbirds may nest from as early as late February to as late as mid to late August.
This is only common towards the south of their range and is known to occur in Florida at least. For the most part, mockingbirds stick to the standard spring breeding and summer season that extends from April until July or August or so.
Most Northern Mockingbird eggs are laid in early to mid-spring, from late April until May and June.
However, in rare cases, most pairs of Northern mockingbirds attempt to raise two or three broods, and female mockingbirds may lay the last eggs as late as July or early August.
Northern mockingbirds return to their winter territories in the winter, which may be near their breeding territories.
Rather than migrating, many Northern mockingbirds simply stay in their breeding territories all year, especially in the southernmost parts of their range.
Juvenile baby Mockingbird inside of the nest
At the start of the breeding season, the male Mockingbird will establish a territory.
The male defends his territory vigorously and uses territorial “boundary dances” to fend off other mockingbirds and other birds encroaching on the territory.
After pairs are formed at the start of the breeding season, the male will proceed to build a nest at a site he selects. The male undertakes the majority of nest-building activity by collecting twigs and materials and bringing them to the nest as the female watches for predators from a nearby perch.
Next, the female helps line the nest prior to laying her clutch.
Northern Mockingbird taking nesting material to build the nest
Northern Mockingbird by the wide variety of twigs, sticks, leaves, mosses, and synthetic human items like string, paper, foam, cardboard, and plastic.
The exterior layers of the nest are made from thick materials like dead twigs, while the inside of the nest is made from softer grasses and rootlets. The resulting nest is small and intricate and can contain practically any natural or synthetic material available nearby.
At the start of the breeding season, the male will initiate nest construction by selecting the first nesting site.
The male takes care of the majority of nest-building duties while the female sits at a treetop perch and keeps watch for predators. However, the female does help line the nest towards the end of the nest construction process.
Nests built later in the season are typically constructed faster than those built earlier in the season and the female takes a more active interest in the building process.
Mockingbird diving into the hedge with nesting material
Northern mockingbird eggs are a pale blue or greenish color with red and brown splotches. They measure around 0.6 to 0.8in (1.6 to 2cm) wide by 0.8 to 1.1in (2 to 2.9cm) long.
The typical clutch size is 2 to 6 eggs, with an average of 3 or 4.
Male Mockingbirds do not help with the incubation of the eggs; only the female Northern mockingbird incubates the eggs.
Incubation takes around 12 to 14 days. The male will often begin building a new nest as the female incubates and will feed the fledgling chicks as the female finishes that nest in an overlapping process.
Close up of three Mockingbird eggs
Nestling Northern mockingbirds fledge on the 12th day, typically in the morning. However, parental care lasts for two to three weeks after fledging.
The male feeds the fledglings as the female finishes the new nest and prepares for the next brood. During this time, the parents are fiercely defensive of their young. They will attack virtually anyone or anything that comes too close, including humans and other animals which are considerably larger than them.
Northern Mockingbird fledgling
Northern mockingbirds have two to three broods but may try to nest up to six times in one season (e.g., if one or more broods fail). Two broods are most common, but three are relatively frequent where conditions are right in the south where the breeding season is longer.
Both male and female Northern Mockingbird parents feed the nestlings.
Then, after the chicks fledge, the male looks after the young birds for another 2 to 3 weeks while the female prepares for the next brood.
Mockingbird parents form strong cooperative bonds and work together tirelessly throughout the breeding season. Their overlapping duties are well-timed to give them the best chance of raising multiple broods.
Mockingbird feeding young chick
Mockingbirds rarely abandon their nests and will only do so if forced by predators or severe weather. However, nests are more likely to be abandoned if the eggs have not yet hatched.
During incubation, the female Mockingbird will sit on the eggs all night as the male sleeps in a nearby shrub, bush, or tree.
You can attract Northern mockingbirds to your garden by providing dense bushes and shrubs, particularly fruiting bushes like mulberry, blackberry, or raspberry.
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