The third most popular bird named as a state bird is the Northern Mockingbird, the officially named bird for five states: Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. This is not surprising, considering that mockingbirds are found in each of the continental United States and have a staggering repertoire of songs, which unmated males tend to sing late into the night. Mockingbirds are members of the family Mimidae, a Western Hemisphere family that includes catbirds and thrashers. Mimids, from the Latin for mimic, are a family known for their astonishing ability to mimic the songs of other birds. In fact, this ability goes well beyond other birdsong, including such things as squeaky gates and car alarms. We were enjoying an In-n-Out burger, outside, one day, when we heard a cell phone ringing. We searched the area for the phone and finally found the source of the ringing, a happily singing Curve-billed Thrasher.

Most mockingbirds live south of the U.S., from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. Four different species are found on different Galapagos islands, an occurrence that helped Charles Darwin craft his theory of natural selection. Locally, our other common mimid is the Curve-billed Thrasher, a bird that is usually known for its definitive sharp whistles, but which can also match the Northern Mockingbird’s repertoire of beautiful songs. If you hear a long-winded continuous song in SaddleBrooke, the likelihood of it being one or the other is near certain. In spite of this, it’s easy to differentiate the two. Mockingbirds sing a series of short repetitive bars, continuing nearly non-stop, while thrashers sing a jumbled, more chaotic song, without the repetitive bars and including an occasional sharp whistle just in case you weren’t sure who you were hearing. Northern Mockingbirds tend to be monogamous, and often mate for life. They can have up to four broods per year and outlive their cousins, with one of the oldest recorded at nearly 15-years.

They have a balanced diet of insects and fruit, and feed mainly on the ground for insects, where they often raise one or both wings above their back in order to expose their white wing patches, a behavior that possibly frightens insects out of hiding, similar to the tail-flashing behavior of redstarts and gnatcatchers. They also are fond of a great variety of fruit, and we have observed them eating grape jelly from an oriole feeder as well as red-hot chiltepin berries. They aren’t very shy, either, and they don’t hesitate to force other birds to vacate a seed feeder they’re coveting. They will warn humans to keep their distance around their nests, and they seem to love to buzz small dogs, though some believe this behavior is just for fun.

However, incredible vocalization is the mockingbird’s star feature. Its propensity for complex calls and songs is its defining trait, with more than 200 distinct songs being typical. Although both sexes sing, the males predominate, and its function is likely a combination of mate attraction and territorial defense. The Northern Mockingbird is known for long complex songs incorporating melodious phrases, warbles, guttural notes and squeaks that can continue for twenty minutes at a time. And that doesn’t even include their mastery of cell phone ringtones.

If you have questions or comments about SaddleBrooke’s birds, or to receive emailed information about bird walks led by Bob and Prudy, call (520) 825-9895 or email Previously published articles can be found at

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