Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis[i]

DSC_0316

[i] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 17JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

Gray catbirds belong to a family of birds called mimids, which are known to have a large repertoire of songs, many of which are copied from other birds.[i] Three species are found in our region: The star singer – the brown thrasher (known to mimic over 1100 sounds),[ii]  the bully – the northern mockingbird, and the weird oddball making fart noises (and not quite succeeding) and other weird sounds while hiding in the bushes and today’s subject – the gray catbird.

The gray catbird is quite attractive. They are mostly a solid steel gray, except for black eyes, a back spot on their head and a reddish spot on their butt.[iii] They are a medium sized songbird, growing to about 8 or 9 inches, with a 8 to 11 inch wingspan.[iv] These guys are actually one of my favorite birds, not only due to their handsome appearance, but also their shy behavior and bizarre sounds. Even though they are normally quite docile, they have been known to destroy the nests of other bird species,[v] nobody is entirely sure why.

Like I previously mentioned, catbirds are quite shy, and like to hide in the bushes.[vi] Despite this, they are frequently seen. These birds prefer thickets along the edges of woodlands, as well as semi open areas.[vii] I have frequently seen them in fields and parks, usually near bushes. Their flights are often short quick hops between areas of dense cover.[viii] Not only do they spend most of their time in dense bushes, they also nest there as well, and those nests are often in the deepest, thickest, densest part of the bushes, difficult for most predators to reach.[ix]

Most mimid birds are good singers, and they mimic other birds – along with any other sounds they come across. The gray catbird is no exception, however, they are not as good singers as many other members of the mimid family. And like other mimids, the male has been known to sing from a high conspicuous perch.[x] More often however, they prefer to sing, as well as make the aforementioned weird ass noises while hiding in bushes.[xi] Catbirds also add a wide variety of random odd sounds to their repertoire of bird songs.[xii] Another distinguishing feature about their song is that they don’t repeat the mimicked sounds in a pattern. They just go from sound to sound to sound randomly. Both the northern mockingbird and brown thrasher repeat mimicked songs in a pattern.[xiii] And there is the call note, which sounds sorta kinda like a caterwauling feline – hence the name “catbird.”[xiv] Though, I should point out there is some variation in the call notes. Sometimes it sounds just like a cat, other times it sounds like a squeaky door or just an annoying scream. But most of the time, it is in between all those sounds.

While many species of mimid birds migrate, the gray catbird is the only one from New England that travels to the tropics.[xv] And like those who stay in North America in the winter, catbirds have lost some of their wintering habitat. Because of this, gray catbirds have declined a bit in recent years, but are still very common.[xvi] However, I should point out I did see one hanging around in the bushes at work this winter. Not sure if he got blown up in a storm or was just plain stupid. Either way, I hope he survived.

[i] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 468. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[ii] Author Unknown “Brown Thrasher” ” Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds. Cornell University.  2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Thrasher/sounds

[iii] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

[iv] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

[v] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds. Cornell University.  2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/lifehistory

[vi] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About  Birds. Cornell University.  2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/id

[vii] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

 

[viii] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About  Birds. Cornell University.  2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/id

[ix] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About  Birds. Cornell University.  2015 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/lifehistory

[x] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 472-3. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[xi] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

[xii][xii][xii] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 470. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[xiii] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

[xiv] Author Unknown “Gray Catbird” Wikipedia 04JUN2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird

[xv] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 474. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

[xvi] Edited by Elphick, Chris, Dunning, John B. and Sibley, David Allen “National Audubon Society The Field Guide to Bird Life & Behavior” pg. 474. 2001, Chanticleer Press, New York.

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