Nicknamed the “American nightingale”, Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) were originally concentrated in the southeastern United States. Known for their vocal talents and aggressive defense of territories, they have since become widespread throughout much of North America.
So, where do Northern mockingbirds live? And is it rare to spot or hear one? Keep reading to find the answers to these questions and more!
Mockingbirds are widespread throughout the U.S., southern Canada, and into Mexico and the Caribbean. They adapt well to urban landscapes and thrive in a range of habitats, including forests, woodlands, open pasture, and parks in residential areas.
The Northern mockingbird is the state bird of five states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas, but it’s not limited to these areas.
They generally do not migrate in winter months, remaining in their home territory all year round, although there are some exceptions for mockingbird populations living in the coldest parts of southern Canada.
To learn more about where mockingbirds live and what habitats they prefer, please read on!
Mockingbirds are highly adaptable, and can be found across a range of habitats
Mockingbirds were once limited to the southernmost states of the U.S., but during the 19th century their range extended northeast. In the early years of the 20th century, further expansion occurred, with populations becoming established in the Midwest states and further west.
Today the species can be found throughout the U.S., across the southern extremes of Canada, into Mexico and Central America, and across the Caribbean.
Originally concentrated in the southeastern United States, mockingbirds have gradually been extending their range northwards since the 1940s, and today are widespread across the country, and even found as far north as Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes.
Mockingbirds have established themselves in every state except Alaska, although some rare sightings have been recorded in the extreme southeast of the state. The species was introduced into Hawaii in 1928 but remain uncommon there.
Northern mockingbirds are found along the southern border states of Canada, living, and breeding in Ontario and Quebec, with some observations of populations in southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
Northern Mockingbirds can be found across every state, other than Alaska
Northern mockingbirds live in a wide variety of habitats. They forage for food and nest in open areas with low shrubby vegetation and sparse tree cover. Common habitats include thickets and shrubbery, the edges of forests and deserts, grasslands, and savannas.
There are an estimated 33 million Northern mockingbirds in the U.S., and the species is rated as of least concern by the IUCN. Mockingbirds are widespread and are unafraid of living in close proximity to humans, so catching sight of one would not be considered rare.
In the past, species numbers declined considerably, with wild birds trapped and sold for the caged bird market because of their distinctive singing abilities.
Northern mockingbirds are now protected and have experienced a rebound in population, although recent numbers are showing a slight decline again.
Northern Mockingbird perched on a branch in Clark County Wetlands Park, Henderson, Nevada
You might hear a Northern mockingbird before you see one, although as expert mimics of other bird species at first you realize that it is in fact a mocker, showing off its singing skills.
While they do live and breed in urban areas, a Northern mockingbird’s preferred habitat features areas of woodland, open fields and patches of dense foliage, so head for these types of settings to maximize your chances of spotting one.
In winter, lawns and urban parks may attract foraging mockingbirds, on the lookout for berries and wild fruits. When other food sources are scarce, you may even catch sight of a mockingbird around a backyard feeder, searching for suet or mealworms.
Northern Mockingbird foraging for food on a lawn
Although they are active during daytime, it is not unusual to hear a mockingbird sing at night. They are vigilant defenders of their territory, so frequently take naps throughout the day to compensate for any overnight activity.
Mockingbirds are also known to be early risers, and are often one of the first songbirds to be heard each morning as daylight starts to break.
In the majority of their range, Northern mockingbirds are year-round residents and do not leave their territories in winter months. However, birds in the extreme northern fringes of their distribution range, e.g. those living in southern Canada, may shift towards less chilly regions if temperatures start to drop too much.
Northern Mockingbird perched in sumac
Mockingbirds are year-round residents throughout the U.S. and spend winters foraging for food in their home territories, competing with robins, starlings, and woodpeckers for insects and berries.
Some birds from the northernmost populations, e.g. along the Canada-U.S. border, do migrate south as winter approaches to escape the cold weather.
Northern mockingbird populations can experience a severe decline in the harshest winters, although birds living in milder regions are able to survive with no major challenges.
Northern Mockingbird in the winter snow
In summer months, Northern mockingbirds are occupied with breeding season and can be seen and heard noisily and aggressively defending their nest sites from intruders and potential predators, particularly pet cats.
In spring and summer, a mockingbird’s diet consists mainly of insects, particularly beetles, wasps, and grasshoppers. They are a common sight hopping on backyard lawns, urban parklands, and woodland floors, foraging for food.
Northern Mockingbirds generally stay year-round in their territories
Mockingbirds are a notoriously territorial species and do not tolerate the presence of other birds nearby, particularly during the breeding season.
In winter months, they are also fierce defenders of their feeding territories and will jostle for supremacy with other backyard birds, such as robins and starlings, over access to food supplies.
In winter, small groups of young, unmated mockingbirds may forage together, but it is uncommon for larger groups of adult birds to gather together.
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