This very common, conspicuous mimid of the southern United States is known for its loud, mimicking song, often heard during spring and summer nights in suburban neighborhoods. Both sexes aggressively defend nesting and feeding territories. They flash their white outer tail feathers and white wing patches conspicuously during courtship and territorial displays. Seen often on wires and fences in towns, the Northern often feeds on berries during the winter. Monotypic. Length 10".
Sexes similar. Adult: about the size of an American robin, but thinner and longer tailed. Upperparts gray, unstreaked; underparts grayish white, unstreaked; long black tail has white outer tail feathers; conspicuous white wing bars; white patch at the base of primaries contrasts with blacker wings. Black line through a yellow eye. Bill relatively short and straight. Juvenile: underparts can be heavily spotted; upperparts with pale edging give back and head a streaked appearance; black line through eye less distinct; eye darker.
The loggerhead shrike is similarly colored, but note distinct shape differences, particularly in the bill; shrike lacks white wing bars and has more extensive black mask.
Call: a loud, sharp check. Song: long, complex song consisting of a mixture of original and imitative phrases, each repeated several times. Excellent mimic of other bird species. Often sings at night.
Status and Distribution
Common and conspicuous. Breeding: nests in a variety of habitats, including suburban neighborhoods. Migration: birds in the northern portion of range and at higher elevations migrate south during fall and winter. Birds in the southern portion of range are resident. Vagrant: birds are found casually north of mapped range.
Range is expanding as a result of urbanization and creation of disturbed habitats.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006