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Beginning ID: Mockingbirds

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Northern Mockingbird
The Northern Mockingbird is a common backyard species over most of the lower 48 states and southern Canada. It is a rather plain looking bird: gray above and grayish-white below. Its wings and tail appear dark gray when the bird is perched but show obvious white when the bird is in flight. The wings have big white patches and the outer tail feathers are all white. The male and female look alike in plumage but can be told apart by behavior.

Mockingbirds imitate the songs and calls of other birds. They tend to repeat each imitation 3 or more times before going on to the next. Sometimes it is fun to test your skills and see how many of the bird's imitations you can recognize. In spring, only males sing as they outline territories and attract mates. In fall, both male and female sing as they outline separate winter territories—usually around a source of berries, their main winter food. They may also sing at night when there is a full moon or their territory is near street lamps.

Another interesting behavior of Northern Mockingbirds is called wing-flashing. This is where the bird slowly raises its outstretched wings in a series of jerky motions. Sometimes the wings are held up for a few seconds. This behavior can be seen from spring through fall and often occurs while the bird is on the ground feeding. It may be used to scare up insects in the grasses which the bird then eats, but its true function remains a mystery.

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