Northern Mockingbird

Photo by Jean Chamberlain
December 31, 2020

Mimus polyglottos

What is known about Mockingbird song?

• 100-200 songs
• Countersings, matching song types
• Nocturnal singing (bachelors) (Kroodsma 2005, Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Both sexes sing, females less
• Extraordinarily diverse song repertoires
• Persistent mimic
• Songs acquired through imitating: –calls, songs, and parts of songs of other birds –vocalizations of non avian species –mechanical sounds –other mockingbirds
• Two repertoires: spring and fall (Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Sing in ‘bouts’ (repeat one song type several times)
• Vary how often they return to repeat a bout of a particular song type
(Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Repertoire size correlates with mating success (Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Song activity peaks at nest building
• Males sing during February into August (Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Males sing during the establishment of fall territories (mid-September through November) (Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Females rarely sing during summer, sing during fall period
(Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• No nocturnal song occurs during the fall (Farnsworth et al. 2020)

He’s a mimic.  When I walk along the road by my house in the spring at one spot I regularly hear the phone ring.  The mockingbird that resides at that location has learned to mimic a phone.  They imitate songs of other birds, mechanical and animal sounds as well as other mockingbirds.  When I return there in the fall, he doesn’t mimic a phone.

How and when is song acquired?

• Young begin to sing quietly between one and two months of age
(Farnsworth et al. 2020)
• Learn sounds throughout life (Kroodsma 2005)
• In captivity abnormal song develops when not exposed to song ( Lanyon 1976)

How can we facilitate learning?

• Release as soon as possible:  expose for long period of learning to facilitate large repertoire
• Raise with adult mockingbirds
• House outside with singing adults of other species
• Play recordings? xxxxxxxx Find evidence xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
– Readily learn all types of sounds
–Play variety of mockingbird song
–Play other species song

Note: mockingbirds repeat song types multiple times in a bout whereas Brown Thrashers tend to sing song types in pairs before switching song type.  Kroodsma indicates that gray catbirds, unlike mockingbirds, improvise rather than mimic.


Derrickson, K.C. (1987). Yearly and situational changes in the estimate of repertoire size in Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). Auk. 104(2): 198-207.

Howard R. D. 1974. The influence of sexual selection and interspecific competition on mockingbird song (Mimus polyglottos). Evolution, 28, 428-38.

Kroodsma, Donald.2005. The Singing Life of Birds: 68-79.

Kroodsma, D. E. (1982). Song repertoires: Problems in their definition and use. In Acoustic Communication in Birds, Volume 2: Song Learning and Its Consequences (D. E. Kroodsma and E. H. Miller, Editors), Academic Press, New York, NY, USA. pp. 125–146.

Lanyon, S.M. (1976). Development of song in a Mockingbird hand-reared from the egg in a controlled auditory environment. Kingbird. 26(1): 4-10.

Logan, C. A. 1883. Reproductively dependent song cyclicity in mated male mockingbirds Minimus polyglottos. Auk. 100, 404-13.

Farnsworth, G., G. A. Londono, J. U. Martin, K. C. Derrickson, and R. Breitwisch (2020). Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.