Traditionally, naturalists say there’s a trade-off when it comes to bird traits. For instance, if a species lacks brightly colored feathers, it might make up for it with a beautiful song. The Northern Mockingbird makes a solid argument for this theory.
The 200 songs in the repertoire of the male Northern Mockingbird is a counterbalance to its less-than-dazzling grayish, brownish plumage that makes it hard to distinguish from the female. In the coming spring months, expect to hear almost near constant singing as males work to win over a mate and establish territory. While the male is looking, or if the moon is out, he will sing his string of songs, borrowed from other songbirds, long into the night.
It’s not fully understood why these birds take on the songs of others. For example, males and even females will have a spring-summer repertoire, and switch to a fall lineup. A study at Cornell University suggests that repertoire counts in matters of the mockingbird heart. When they live in climates that have a lot of variation, females show a stronger preference for males with a more complex song repertoire. Possibly, this signals a higher level of intelligence and resourcefulness.
Mockingbirds are territorial, especially during nesting season. They’ll fly directly at their competitors, other species and even at dogs and cats to defend their range. During courtship, males give showings of several nesting sites in thick bushes or trees, allowing females to make the final selection. Once the eggs are hatched, the female might begin incubating eggs in a second nest while the male finishes tending the first set of fledglings.
Though the mockingbird is heavily associated with the southern U.S., they live year-round in the continental U.S., preferring suburban and park settings that feature plenty of open grassy areas. While they feed mostly on insects, they also eat fruit. If you hear that rapid-fire "playlist" of birdsong in your neighborhood, roll out the welcome mat by filling your hopper feeder or platform feeder with Lyric Fruit & Nut Mix and enjoy the show.