Did you know our 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had a pet Northern Mockingbird named “Dick.” He actually had several Mockingbirds at various times, but Dick was the only one he mentioned by name in his diary and apparently was his favorite. Jefferson often left the cage open in the White House and allowed him free range of his office (now the State Dining Room). Dick would perch on Jefferson’s couch or shoulder and sing or take a piece of food from Jefferson’s lips. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would pour out his songs.
Although maybe not the prettiest of all birds, Northern Mockingbirds certainly make up for looks with their beautiful extended repertoire of songs. These birds sing endlessly, and can learn up to 200 different songs. Both the male and female sing and can mimic many other bird calls, other animals and even mechanical sounds. There is a mockingbird near my house and he sounds exactly like a Red-tailed Hawk. Many of us have been fooled by these comical birds as they imitate Blue Jays, Orioles, Killdeer, frogs, dogs and even squeaky wheels. They tend to repeat phrases 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound. Unmated males will are the most insistent singers and may sing late into the night.
Northern Mockingbirds are common on Seabrook Island year round. They are a medium sized bird that has gray upper parts with black and white wing feathers. Its tail is long, gray and edged with white. Its underside is light gray/white, their bill is black and the iris is yellowish-orange. They have prominent white patches on the wings that are especially visible in flight. These birds measure between 8-11 inches long and weigh 1.4-2 ounces. The sexes are similar although the male is heavier than the female.
These birds are generally monogamous. They breed in the spring and early summer on Seabrook and the female has 2-6 blue green eggs with brown splotches. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and when they hatch, both male and female will assist in the feeding.
Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, crustaceans and a variety of arthropods, especially beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. They also eat fruits and earthworms. You usually find them on SI foraging on the ground, on top of hedges, in open areas and forest edges. These birds are bold and territorial when defending their nests and will even attack intruders like cats, dogs, humans or other birds that venture too close.
The lifespan of a Northern Mockingbird in the wild is eight years. The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas.
Article Submitted by: Flo Foley 2017, resubmitted by SIB.
Photographs by: Charles Moore & Ed Konrad