Mockingbirds from the family Mimidae consist of about 17 species and live solely in the Americas, with very few sightings anywhere else in the world. Mockingbirds received their name by being excellent vocal mimics capable of advanced vocalisations, frequently copying sounds from their environment in a seemingly mocking fashion. Mockingbirds are flexible and adaptable birds, so what do mockingbirds eat?
Mockingbirds are omnivorous, mostly eating fruits, seeds, insects, arthropods and invertebrates such as worms. The Northern mockingbird’s diet is around 50% meat, mostly from insects, and 50% plant foods, mostly fruits, seeds and flowers. In the warmer breeding season, insects usually take priority and account for around 85% of a Northern mockingbirds diet, falling to just around 15% in winter.
Seasonal variation in the diet of mockingbirds is consistent across most species, with many taking advantage of the insect-rich breeding season. Mockingbirds forage from both the ground, trees and bushes and many are highly proficient at hunting insects on the wing (whilst flying).
Read on to discover more about the feeding, foraging and hunting abilities of these intriguing birds!
Northern Mockingbird eating red berries
Mockingbirds are omnivores, eating a vast range of insects, arthropods and various invertebrates as well as fruits, seeds and flowers. Favoured arthropods and invertebrates include beetles, ants, bees, caterpillars, worms, wasps, cicadas, crickets and grasshoppers. Northern mockingbirds are also proficient at hunting small lizards.
The Northern mockingbird feeds on most fruit and seeds as well as many flowers and has also been observed drinking tree sap, foraging both from wild shrubs, trees and bushes as well as from garden plants.
On average, throughout the year, a Northern mockingbird’s diet consists of around 50% plant foods and 50% meat, but in the breeding season, Northern mockingbirds and most other species of mockingbirds consume more arthropods and invertebrates than they do plant food. In the winter, insect abundance typically drops due to colder temperatures, meaning mockingbirds have to consume more plant foods.
The foraging behaviour of mockingbirds is quite flexible, and they’re also agile insect hunters, catching flying insects in fast aerial pursuits. Some species, like the Long-Tailed mockingbird, catch invertebrates from the surface of lakes, ponds and pools.
Many species of mockingbirds will feed on garden bird feeders if they encounter them. Whilst they’re territorial feeders, most mockingbirds are unafraid to venture into other birds’ territories to feed.
Mockingbird with insect in its beak
Baby mockingbirds are primarily fed soft arthropods and invertebrates such as caterpillars, worms and various larvae, with beetle larvae making up the majority of their diet in Northern mockingbirds at least.
After a few days, the chicks’ diets may shift slightly towards fruits and seeds. In most species of mockingbirds, both parents feed the nestlings. In Florida, Northern mockingbirds have also been observed feeding older nestlings meat from small lizards.
Unlike some birds, many mockingbirds make a concerted effort to feed nestlings in equal proportions, regardless of nestling size or gender.
Northern Mockingbird feeding chicks in the nest
The winter diets of many mockingbirds, particularly those distributed further north like Northern mockingbirds, mainly consist of fruit. In fact, in Northern mockingbirds, studies suggest that only some 10% to 15% of their winter diet is made up of animals, the remainder is fruits, seeds and other nutritious foliage.
This seasonal difference is less pronounced in mockingbirds distributed in South America, e.g. the Tropical mockingbird, Galapagos mockingbird and Bahama mockingbirds. Winter is when many mockingbirds might come in search of bird feeders as food is in higher demand.
Northern Mockingbird foraging for food on the ground during winter
Through the breeding season and extending throughout summer, many species of mockingbirds often feed primarily on insects.
In the case of the Northern mockingbird, summer diets may consist of some 85% insects, falling to as low as 15% in winter. Whilst seasonal variation is observed in the diets of most species of mockingbirds, it’s most pronounced in the Northern mockingbird.
Mockingbirds eat seeds but prefer fruits, mainly berries, instead of dry plant food like seeds and grains. Even so, mockingbirds can be found eating from garden bird feeders during winter but are more likely to be attracted by fruits. Most mockingbirds prefer wetter foods, hence why they prefer insects, but will also eat seeds, grains, etc.
Mockingbird in flight
Mockingbirds have been observed hunting and eating small lizards, so it’s conceivable that they’d also be able to hunt small snakes, though there is little evidence to support this. If a snake came in close contact with a mockingbirds nest, then they’d certainly attempt to send it slithering away again, probably by dive-bombing it and swiping it with their claws.
Instead, it is primarily mockingbirds who are hunted by snakes and not the other way around!
Mockingbirds regularly consume mealworms, and they simply love them. Whilst mockingbirds would surely prefer their mealworms alive, they’ll still eat dried mealworms and will likely be attracted to mealworms placed on a garden bird feeder or table in winter especially.
Mockingbird eating mealworms
There’s no evidence to suggest that hummingbirds eat hummingbirds or any other bird, nor their eggs. They have a penchant for insects, arthropods and even some marine invertebrates like crayfish and shrimps, but not birds. Whilst mockingbirds are frequently territorial and aggressive both towards each other and other species of small birds, they aren’t known for killing and eating other birds or their young.
Mockingbirds will, however, aggressively defend their nests and nestlings from predators and have even been known to attack humans - and they might even bear a grudge against specific humans that enter their territories!
Mockingbirds eat non-poisonous spiders and a variety of other insects, arthropods and invertebrates. Arthropods are hunted from the ground and are usually killed and dismembered in-situ before being eaten at a nearby perch.
Northern Mockingbird eating a spider
Mockingbirds are great fruit eaters, especially in winter, where insects are less abundant. They’ll eat all manner of fruits, including grapes.
It doesn’t seem that mockingbirds eat acorns which are pretty challenging and tough to penetrate. The beaks of most mockingbirds are thin, precise and slender, ideal for plucking berries from trees and catching small insects.
Mockingbird singing for a mate
Mockingbirds eat most fruits but prefer berries which they can effectively pluck from a bush and swallow whole. In the garden, mockingbirds can be fed anything from apple chunks and slices to grapes, raisins, bananas and citrus fruits.
Mockingbirds are proficient at foraging and feeding and rarely encounter food shortages, but that doesn’t mean that they never visit feeders. In the winter especially, mockingbirds may be attracted to feeders that provide mealworms and nutritious fruits. They will also eat seeds, grains and suet, but don’t rave about them.
Northern Mockingbird on a backyard feeder, alongside a Sparrow
Mockingbirds typically forage from the ground but will also pick live fruits and berries from trees. Northern mockingbirds forage using a peculiar two-step walk or hop that allows them to display the white patches under their feathers.
There is much debate about precisely why they choose to do this, as it’s not a commonly observed behaviour amongst ground foraging birds. It may be that the birds are intimidating others around their feeding grounds or are attempting to ward off predators.
Mockingbirds are capable hunters and will usually fly from their perch to pick arthropods from the ground. They’re also capable of catching flying insects and have been observed chasing them for extensive periods of time.
One tactic that Northern mockingbirds use at least is stunning or knocking their prey - typically a cicada - to the ground and then swooping in for the kill.
Mockingbird foraging on the ground for prey
Mockingbirds are generally very territorial birds and staunchly maintain their feeding grounds, chasing off any intruders that they can. They will visit fruit trees, bushes and bird feeders outside of their territory and are known to intrude in each other’s territories to steal food if they need to.
As well as being territorial, mockingbirds have been observed bearing grudges against specific animals that enter their territory, including humans. In one study, mockingbirds were found to learn to recognise specific people after just 60 seconds of exposure. They might then single them out and attack them whilst totally ignoring others.
The recognition and memory skills of mockingbirds are right up there with the most intelligent animals in the world, including other families of highly intelligent birds like the Corvids and pigeons.
A pair of Mockingbirds fighting over territory
There are many reports of mockingbirds attacking humans. Most species of mockingbirds are incredibly territorial - especially the Northern mockingbird, which is responsible for virtually all attacks on humans.
Mockingbirds are well-known for their dive-bombing behaviours, swooping in from a perch to attack humans as well as pretty much any other animal, regardless of how large and dangerous it is.
Whilst the wounds sustained in such a vicious attack are nearly always minor - considering mockingbirds are just some 20cm long - some people have reported being persistently attacked by the same territorial mockingbird day after day after day!
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