The Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) Gray Catbirds are described as medium sized, chunky birds (chunky bird, too cute! 😻). Mostly slate gray with a black cap and rusty red underparts. Catbirds are common, but secretive, hanging out in viney thickets and dense shrubs. You most often hear them before seeing them. They have a distinct “mew” call, very cat-like which is how they got their name. Being relatives of mockingbirds & thrashers, they also share the same vocal abilities, being able to copy sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own songs when they aren’t mewing!

Male Gray Catbirds will sing loudly to proclaim his territory. While near the nest, he will sing a softer version of the song and the female may sing the quiet song back to him. Catbirds are monogamous (having only one mate at a time). They will pair up soon after arriving to the breeding grounds in spring, where courtship displays begin. The male will sing to draw the female near, then once she appears he takes off after her and will display a dance of strutting with his wings lowered, and holding his tail high in the air showing off his chestnut colored patch on his under tail coverts. The mating season is from April to August, and they produce 1-2 broods each season. Catbirds are not often victims to the brood parasite (organisms that rely on others to raise their young) bird the Brown-headed Cowbird, since they are able to recognize their own eggs, and will push out any intruder eggs that they spot in their own nest.

Gray Catbirds communicate through visual means, using special attitudes of their head and feathers, as well as by way of songs and calls. You can see this behavior while they are at the bird bath, trying to intimidate each other so they have the bath to themselves. In the spring you can see this interesting little bird in their breeding grounds on our PA feeder cams, and in winter you can see them in their wintering grounds on our Key Largo cam! Year round catbirds for all! If you see a group of these birds, you can correctly refer to them as a “mewing” and/or a “seat” of catbirds.

They are daily visitors at our Key Largo bath cam right now, always bathing even after the IR kicks on in the evening:
Catbirds with a cardinal:
Catbirds with waterthrush & ovenbird:
Catbird with female Indigo buntings:

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