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Mockingbird short on looks, long on song

A Northern Mockingbird. Phoco courtesy of Mary Schmauss

The northern mockingbird is a fairly large bird, averaging 10 inches long, with a slender, pale gray body, long tail and narrow beak. It has distinctive white wing patches that are most noticeable in flight. The northern mockingbird may be a somewhat drab-looking bird, but what it is lacking in color it more than makes up for in song.

The northern mockingbird is best-known for its seemingly endless singing. In the 19th century, mockingbirds were trapped and sold as cage birds because of their singing ability. Luckily, today, this is no longer allowed and their population has rebounded, with an estimated 32 million in North America. Male mockingbirds can learn up to 200 songs. The female mockingbird also sings, but less frequently and much softer. Mockingbirds sing mainly in the spring and summer nesting season when looking for a mate and establishing territories.

Their diet consists mainly of flies, moths, ants and grasshoppers. They also eat a variety of fruits from shrubs and trees. Mockingbirds do not eat birdseed but can be lured to your backyard if you plant native berry-producing shrubs such as Oregon grape, cotoneaster and holly. Fruit-producing trees like hawthorne, mountain ash and juniper are also popular. Providing a birdbath or another bird-friendly water source can be another nice draw.

Mockingbirds have as many as three broods of young in the summer nesting season. The male chooses the nest site and builds several nests. The female picks the preferred nest to lay her eggs.

Northern mockingbirds can be found throughout the United States, southern Canada and into Mexico. They prefer open habitat with sparse, shrubby vegetation. This includes urban parks, suburbs, farm fields and backyards. In New Mexico, they can be seen mainly in the spring and summer months. Now is the time to listen for the melodious song of the northern mockingbird when hiking along our river valleys or just taking a walk in your neighborhood. It is a song that is sure to brighten your day.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard.”