Facts on Mockingbirds

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Mockingbirds are known for their sharp calls and their ability to mimic the sounds of other birds and animals. These birds have adapted to many different environments throughout the world and, though they may be common in some areas, some species are on the brink of extinction.

Types of Mockingbird

Mockingbirds belong to the Mimidae family and their closest living relatives are thrashers like the Sage Thrasher. There are 17 different species of mockingbird including northern mockingbird, the blue mockingbird, the Galapagos mockingbird and the San Cristobal mockingbird. Some species of mockingbird can only be found on certain small islands in the Galapagos while others are more widely distributed. The mockingbirds of the Galapagos Islands heavily influenced the development of some of Darwin's theories of evolution, including the branching theory, which inferred that the three distinct species of mockingbird present on the Galapagos Islands descended from the same South American species.

Appearance

Mockingbirds range in size from one species to another but the most common mockingbird, the northern mocking bird, is similar in size to the American robin. Most mockingbirds have a gray or white underbelly and some species exhibit white bars on their wings, which vary in color from black to gray to brown. Mockingbirds typically have black bills and the feathers around the bill and the eye are usually dark in color. Juvenile mockingbirds often have spotting on their bellies and darker eyes.

Habitat and Population

The northern mockingbird is one of the most common mockingbirds and it can be found throughout the southern United States and Mexico. Several species of mockingbirds endemic to the Galapagos Islands can only be found on one of the three islands and, at least in the case of the Floreana mockingbird, their populations are dangerously small. In 1990, fewer than 300 Floreana mockingbirds were believed to be in existence, making them one of the rarest birds in the world. The tropical mockingbird is common throughout southern Mexico, Brazil and the Caribbean. Other species of mockingbird, including the blue mockingbird and the Chilean mockingbird, typically inhabit shrub land and forests.

Diet

Mockingbirds typically subsist on a diet of insects. Some species, such as the hood mockingbird, are omnivorous and eat the eggs of other birds and may also feed on the kills of other predators. Mockingbirds that live near large bodies of water, such as the mockingbirds of the Galapagos Islands, also feed on small invertebrates like crabs. Some species that live in temperate climates, like the northern mockingbird, must adapt to a colder winter climate where their diet changes from insects to include berries and seeds.

Breeding Behavior

Most species of mockingbird fiercely defend their nests against animals and other birds that invade their territory. Several species live and nest in communities. The Galapagos mockingbird, for example, typically lives in groups of two to 24 where the oldest male hunts for food and helps to care for the fledglings. Other species of mockingbird, like the San Cristobal mockingbird, have not been known to breed cooperatively. Other species of mockingbird that breed cooperatively include the Espanola mockingbird and the Floreana mockingbird.

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Author

Katherine Barrington has written on a variety of topics, from arts and crafts to pets, health and do-it-yourself projects. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing concentration from Marietta College.