Jul 15 2013

Sarah’s Birds: Gray Catbird

By Sarah Harper Diaz

Gray Catbird.

Gray Catbird.

The Gray Catbird is a medium-sized songbird with a slate-gray body and a black cap and tail. This species spends summers throughout most of the US and winters along the Gulf Coast south to Panama. It can actually be found year-round along the East Coast. The Gray Catbird is in the same family as Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds, all of which are known for their ability to mimic the calls of other birds. The Gray Catbird’s song repertoire consists of a string of short phrases—some of which are mimicked and some apparently of its own invention. It is called a catbird because of its unique mewing call, which sounds somewhat like a cat. Both sides of a catbird’s syrinx act independently, so the bird can actually make two sounds simultaneously. You will likely hear Gray Catbirds before you see them, since they are highly secretive and spend most of their time in thick brush. Gray Catbirds may be one of the few species that actually benefit from human development, since they prefer edge habitat and secondary brushy growth. Females construct their nests in dense shrubs with some help from males. They lay 3 or 4 eggs per clutch. Brown cowbirds often lay their eggs in catbird nests, but the catbirds almost always recognize the foreign eggs and throw them out or bury them in the nest. A pair of catbirds can have two or three broods per season. This is necessary because nestlings have a fairly high mortality rate, due to nest predators such as snakes, hawks, squirrels, and domestic cats. 

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