Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Gray Catbird

For some reason I didn't figure it out until just last summer, when Mr. Red House pointed and asked, "What is the gray bird over there that sounds like a cat?"

Gray Catbird
Ahhhh, so that's why it's called a Gray CATbird!

Gray Catbirds do indeed make a 'meow' that sounds impressively like an unhappy cat, but they can also mimic other birds and animals in their impressive song repertoire, much like their Mockingbird and Thrasher relatives.  Usually on the shy side, they often sing while hiding in shrubbery.


The Gray Catbird usually lives in semi-open areas with lots of dense, low growth, such as scrublands, woodland edges, overgrown farmland, shrubby swamps, and suburban gardens that have dense bushes and hedges.  They eat mainly insects and berries, but they will also visit suet feeders.


Catbirds are considered omnivores, and people have noticed them eating such varied and diverse things as cheese, bread, milk, mushrooms, doughnuts, boiled potatoes, fried fish, beef stew, peanuts, and beef soup!  Fruit and berries constitute some of their favorite foods, however, and a good way to attract them.  When I left out a feeder with grape jelly and oranges for some resident Orioles, it was the Gray Catbirds that came and ate it.


Catbirds build their nests in dense bushes, briar tangles, or thickets usually fairly low to the ground.  Because of this their main predators are snakes and, ironically, cats.  They are scrupulous in the cleanliness of their nest, immediately removing any excreta from the young, and they are very intolerant of any foreign eggs sneaked in by parasitic birds like Cowbirds.  Grey Catbirds have strong mothering instincts after they are born, however, and have been known to adopt and take care of the babies of other types of birds that have been orphaned.

baby Gray Catbird
Gray Catbirds are migratory birds, spending summers in the Eastern and middle part of North America and then spending their winters along the Gulf Coast, in Central America, and in the Caribbean. (Wouldn't that be nice?)  Some will reside year-round along the Atlantic coast even as far north as Massachusetts if there is a plentiful amount of food.

range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Like many songbirds, the Grey Catbird migrates at night, forming flocks of around 10 to 15 birds.  They migrate at night to avoid predators such as hawks and because they need less water flying through the cooler night sky.  A major threat to the Grey Catbird and other migrating songbirds, however, is collisions.  They often collide with vehicles and buildings during migration.  Night lights from buildings and communication towers confuse them, leading to more collisions.  In 1991 the city of Toronto launched the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in order to address this issue, and since then organizations such as local Audubon Societies have started Lights Out campaigns, working with buildings in large cities to get them to turn off their lights at night during migration times.

baby Gray Catbird
All of our local Catbirds have migrated down South for the winter, which is probably good as the ones that overwinter in Massachusetts have a high mortality rate.  I enjoy seeing these beautiful birds every summer, though, and hearing its most unusual meowing call!


Happy bird-watching!
And for all those being affected by the large winter storms, stay safe out there!

22 comments:

  1. I think I have these in my garden in the summer. :o)

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    1. I don't see them as often as the other birds, as they like to stay in the brush, but they are such neat birds!

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  2. This is a new bird to me and I was fascinated to learn about it, along with the lights out campaigns. What an interesting post!

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad the Lights Out campaign is really catching hold and more and more cities have joined in. They've also found that certain types of strobe lights on communication towers will confuse fewer birds, and they can save a lot of birds from collisions that way too.

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  3. Nice to see one of my favorite birds profiled, they always seem to want to keep me company in the garden, and always have something to 'say'!

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    1. I love hearing the different bird songs and chatter going on in the garden. This one has a nice and distinctive call!

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  4. I have never seen a catbird. My loss! They are especially lovely by your red fence. I would like this bird, if only because of its mothering instincts.

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    1. There are a good number of them in the Southeast, so maybe sometime you'll see one in your garden. They don't visit feeders as often as other birds so it's a little harder to see them. I do love how they will take care of other orphaned birds!

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  5. We have lots of catbirds around us in summer. I think they are pretty, although not colorful. The little one you pictured is cute.

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  6. Couldn't help myself. I had to go to YouTube to hear their meow.

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    1. Pretty funny how it sounds like a cat, huh?

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  7. Hello Indie!
    We are always happy to visit your blog.
    This time I saw the beautiful bird. I do not know him.
    Great pictures.
    Greetings from cloudy, Polish winter.
    Kisses and greetings.
    Lucia

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    1. Stay warm over there, Lucia! So ready for the winter to be over :)

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  8. Fun to learn so much about the cute little catbird---great photos and hard to get when they move around so much.

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    1. I was especially glad to see the little babies in the yard. So cute!

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  9. I haven't seen one here yet...great info....

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  10. Fascinating, I wonder if they copy the meowing of a cat so as to frighten other birds away from food supply.

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    1. Ha, maybe the meowing is to scare everyone away from their territory!

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  11. I adore seeing these birds return to the garden and the babies hop around and feed in the garden with their parents. I know they are back usually before I see them as I hear their call.

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    1. Yeah, and they are sometimes hard to spot!

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