Northern Mockingbirds Imitate Frogs and Toads

By Kathi Borgmann
Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

  • Texas, Cameron, United States

Northern Mockingbirds exuberantly bounce back and forth between the song of a cardinal, a woodpecker, a car alarm, and what seems like everything in between. New research published in Behavioral Processes adds frogs and toads to the list of sounds mimicked by Northern Mockingbirds.

David Gammon and Anna Corsiglia from Elon University in North Carolina analyzed recordings in the Macaulay Library and found that Northern Mockingbirds imitate at least 12 species of frogs and toads.

Researchers compiled a list of frog and toad calls from the Macaulay Library and other sources to study their vocalizations. Once they mastered the auditory identification of 71 species of frogs and toads, they set out to listen to recordings of Northern Mockingbirds in the archive. They listened to 40 hours of recordings and identified 24 instances of frog and toad mimicry.

Northern Mockingbirds were more likely to mimic frogs and toads whose vocal frequencies matched the vocal range of the mockingbird (750–7000 Hz). Gammon and Corsiglia also noted that mockingbirds shortened the calls of frogs and toads when they mimicked them.

Take a listen. Do you hear the Woodhouse’s Toad in the recording?

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

  • Colorado, Las Animas, United States

Woodhouse's Toad Anaxyrus woodhousii

  • Arkansas, Newton, United States

Or the Red-spotted Toad?

Red-spotted Toad Anaxyrus punctatus

  • Texas, Travis, United States

The Macaulay Library holds millions of audio and photographic specimens that can be used to answer all sorts of questions. Gammon and Corsiglia used the Macaulay Library audio collection to examine mimicry in Northern Mockingbirds. Gammon says, “we could not have done the research without the Macaulay Library.”


Read the paper

Gammon, D. E., and A. M. Corsiglia (2019). Mockingbirds imitate frogs and toads across North America. Behavioural Processes doi: