A Comprehensive Overview of Mockingbirds

One of the world’s most recognizable singing birds – the mockingbird is a group of New World passerine birds belonging to the Mimidae family. They are known for mimicking the songs of other birds and sounds of insects and amphibians. The most commonly found mockingbird – the northern mockingbird or Mimus Polyglottos has been observed to imitate the songs of twenty or more species within ten minutes. 


There exist about 17 species and two genera of the mockingbird currently. The northern mockingbird ranges from the north USA to Mexico or Brazil. It is the only mockingbird species found in the USA. The northern species thrive in suburban areas and sing from high perches. They vigorously defend their territories and may also sing at night. Other types of mockingbird are seen in Central and South America, Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands.

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Mockingbird Species – A Brief Guide

We have briefly touched upon the question – what is a mockingbird? Let us now observe in more detail the various species of the mockingbird.

  1. The Brown-Backed Mockingbird – Scientifically known as Mimus dorsalis, the brown-backed mockingbird is indigenous to Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. It is a beautiful singing bird found in the scrubby areas along the high peaks of the Andes. The natural habitat of the brown-backed mockingbird is elevated shrublands and pasturelands in elevated subtropical or tropical regions. The distinguishing features of this type of mockingbird are its rich brown upper portion, white eyebrows and white underparts.

  2. The Bahama Mockingbird – It is found in the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is a vagrant to Florida. A conspicuous resident of habitats like woodland, scrub and suburban areas, the Bahama mockingbird naturally lives in the dry forests and moist lowland forests of tropical or subtropical regions of the world. Contrary to its name, the Bahama mockingbird does not imitate other species.

  3. The Long-Tailed Mockingbird – It is a type of mockingbird that is endemic to the dry shrublands and woodlands of Western Ecuador and Peru. As the name suggests, this mockingbird species has a distinctively long tail, black markings on the face and white wing bars. In addition, the young ones of the long-tailed mockingbird have spots on the breasts and a shorter tail. They usually perch on low bushes and shrubs and, at times, descend to the ground.

  4. The Patagonian Mockingbird – Scientifically known as Mimus patagonicus, the Patagonian mockingbird is relatively common in Argentina but a rarity in Southern Chile. Its favoured natural habitats are drylands and shrublands of subtropical regions and heavily degraded former forests. The Patagonian mockingbird often perches atop bushes, roadside wires and posts. They run well on the ground, as well.

  5. The Chilean Mockingbird – Locally known as tenca, the Chilean mockingbird, like the name suggests, is a common and conspicuous bird of central Chile, particularly its drier areas. However, occasional sightings are observed in Argentina, as well. The favoured natural habitats of this type of mockingbird are open and semi-open drylands and shrublands. Bold pale eyebrows, dark whiskers, dark streaks on flanks and boisterous white tail corners are the salient features of the Chilean mockingbird.

  6. The White-Banded Mockingbird - It is a distinctive mockingbird with large white wing patches visible at rest and looks spectacular during flight. It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Like most other types of the mockingbird, the favoured natural habitats of the white-banded mockingbird are subtropical or tropical drylands and shrublands, elevated shrublands of tropical areas and heavily degraded former forests.

  7. The Northern Mockingbird – It is the most commonly found mockingbird in North America and has a tremendous influence on United States culture. Discovered by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, the northern mockingbird is famous for its mimicking abilities. Scientifically known as Mimus polyglottos, the northern mockingbird meaning translates to ‘many-tongued thrush’ hinting at their phenomenal imitating capabilities. Intelligence is another defining trait of the northern mockingbird.

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  1. The Socorro Mockingbird – It is an endangered mockingbird species endemic to Socorro Island in Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands. They are facing the threat of extinction due to feral cats’ attacks and overgrazing. It is a stouter variety of mockingbird possessing a juvenile plumage.

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  1. The Tropical Mockingbird – It is a resident breeding bird from southern Mexico, Brazil and the Lesser Antilles and other Caribbean islands. The closest relative of the northern mockingbird, the tropical mockingbird has a long dark tail with white feather tips and a slim black bill with a slight downward curve and long legs. Adult tropical mockingbirds are 25 inches long and weigh 54 grams.

  1. The Chalk-Browed Mockingbird – Commonly found in Brazil and parts of Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina and Suriname, the chalk-browed mockingbird has an extensive range of 7,200,000 kilometres. The favoured natural habitats of the species comprise open wooded areas, including urban and suburban gardens. The common foods of the chalk-browed mockingbird are fruits, insects and vertebrates.

  2. The Hood Mockingbird – Scientifically named Mimus macdonaldi, the hood mockingbird is endemic to Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. It is one of the only four closely related mockingbird species found in the Galapagos archipelago. Commonly observed in dry forests, the hood mockingbird is omnivorous and a scavenger. It is a highly territorial mockingbird species and does not fear humans. It is the only Galapagos mockingbird type that Charles Darwin did not collect or see on the voyage of the Beagle.

  3. The Galapagos Mockingbird – It is endemic to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Like all mockingbird species found in the Galapagos archipelago, it has a long tail and is relatively long-legged with a slim, de-curved and long beak. It is an omnivorous bird that indulges in everything from seeds to eggs to baby turtles and so forth. Research suggests that the Galapagos mockingbird may be a strong reason for dispersing invasive plant species in the islands.

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  1. The Floreana Mockingbird – Also known as the Charles Island mockingbird, it is a bird species belonging to the Mimidae family. It is endemic to the Floreana Island of the Galapagos archipelago. Due to colonization from 1832, the species became completely extinct on Floreana because of attacks by predators like dogs and cats. It is a commonly held argument that the Floreana mockingbird was Charles Darwin’s source of inspiration for his magnum opus on the origin of species. As such, it is also known as Darwin's mockingbird. The species is regarded as 'endangered; by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  2. The San Cristobal Mockingbird – As the name suggests, the San Cristobal mockingbird is endemic to the San Cristobal Island of the Galapagos archipelago. The bird's natural habitats include subtropical or tropical dry forests, drylands and shrublands, tropical mangrove forests, and moist shrublands. 

  3. The Blue Mockingbird – This type of mockingbird is endemic to Mexico but has been observed as a vagabond in the southern areas of the United States. The blue mockingbird is precisely blue on its back, tail, wings and underparts. It also possesses a black mask circumscribing its reddish-brown eyes. The bill of the blue mockingbird is long, thin and slightly curved. 

  4. The Blue and White Mockingbird – It is commonly found in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and southeastern Mexico. The favoured natural habitats of the blue and white mockingbird are dry scrublands, woodlands and forest edges. This mockingbird species is 25 centimetres long and comprises blue-grey upperparts, white underparts, red eyes and a black mask. The song of the blue and white mockingbird is high pitched and rattling.

Ways to Identify a Mockingbird

To get the right answer to what a mockingbird is, you must know various ways to identify a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are a common bird species of the United States, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, etc. They are famous for their imitating skills, and hence, the name mockingbird is given to them. There are several ways to identify this unique bird, and you can begin by observing its appearance and size. The mockingbird is an average-sized bird that is equal to an American robin. The wingspan of the mockingbird ranges from 14 to 12 inches. 

In addition to the size, you can also look for cues from the shape of the mockingbird. They have a long tail, and some, like the long-tailed mockingbird, have even more prominent tails. The head of the mockingbird is small, and the beak is long and curved downwards. Colour is one of the optimal tools to identify a mockingbird. Most mockingbirds have a greyish-brown colour with white streaks in certain parts of their body. The calls of the mockingbird are its most easily distinguishable features. The mockingbird call is very sharp and loud. During spring and summer seasons, the breeding seasons, the mockingbird males sing 24 hours a day. Lastly, if you observe a bird mimicking the sounds of other birds and beings like insects, cats, dogs, etc., you can be assured that you are looking at a mockingbird. After covering the mockingbird meaning, its types and ways to identify a mockingbird, it’s time to learn some interesting facts about them. 

Interesting Facts About Mockingbirds

Fascinating, fabulous and a true marvel of nature, the mockingbird continues to intrigue ornithologists even now. Despite extensive research on different types of mockingbirds, there remains the potential of excavating more valuable information about them. Therefore, we have catalogued a few interesting facts about the mockingbird that you may find interesting.

  • Mockingbirds are renowned for their late-night singing. At times, you may hear their call even after midnight.

  • A 2009 study revealed that the northern mockingbird could recognize individual humans, especially those who had been intruders and threats in the past. Thus, the high intellect of the northern mockingbird is awe-inspiring.

  • The northern mockingbird is that state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

  • The Floreana mockingbird, endemic to the Galapagos archipelago, was up-listed to the status of a critically endangered bird species in the Red List of IUCN in 2008 and was again down-listed to an endangered species in the year 21017.

  • The hood mockingbird is deemed as ‘vulnerable’ by Birdlife International due to its limited inhabiting area.

Conclusion

In this guide, we have covered what is a mockingbird, in brief, to make you familiar with the bird. The mockingbird is a spectacular category of bird that arouses the curiosity of scientists and experts even now. Highly intelligent, diverse and adaptable, the mockingbird is a true marvel of nature. All the different mockingbird species possess similarities and differences that astound the professional ornithologists and laymen bird-watchers alike. In some places like the United States of America, the cultural significance of the mockingbird is profound. They also played a vital role in Charles Darwin’s work on the origin of species. Now, you know the mockingbird meaning, its types and other related facts to comprehensively understand everything about the bird.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What Makes the Northern Mockingbird Unique?

Ans. The northern mockingbird is one of the world’s easily identifiable mockingbird species. Their high intelligence is what makes them unique and special. The northern mockingbird breeds in southeastern Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Bahamas, and other nearby regions. It is a close relative of the tropical mockingbird and the Socorro mockingbird. The northern mockingbird is listed as the status of 'least concern’ as per IUCN. The northern mockingbird is medium in size with long legs and a long tail. They usually measure 20.5 to 28 centimetres, including the tail, which is as long as their whole body. It has an average lifespan of 8 years and can live up to 20 years in a captive state. 


The northern mockingbird is a fierce and courageous species that aggressively defend their nest and territory from intrusion. When a predator is persistent, mockingbirds are observed to summon other mockingbirds from neighbouring territories to join the defence. They also drive away domestic cats and dogs that may deem as a threat. In some special instances, people have witnessed that the northern mockingbird attacks birds that are much larger than them. Thus, intelligence, bravery and boldness are the characteristics that make the northern mockingbird special.

Q2. Which Mockingbird Species have been Given the Endangered or Similar Status by IUCN or Other Competent Authorities?

Ans. IUCN has given the Floreana mockingbird the ‘endangered status. The hood mockingbird is deemed as ‘vulnerable’ by BirdLife International. The Socorro mockingbird is listed as ‘critically endangered’ by IUCN. Others like the northern mockingbird are considered to be of ‘least concern’ by IUCN.

Q.3 Why do Mockingbirds Fight?

Ans. Mockingbirds often show aggressive behaviour, especially where they are in lead in the soil. They are widely known to be a territorial species. However, some researchers found that the presence of lead in the environment can make them more aggressive and territorial.