Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Grey catbird, Slate-colored mockingbird, Common catbird, Northern catbird

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Dumetella carolinensis
Population size
27 mln
Life Span
10 yrs
WEIGHT
23-56.5 g
LENGTH
20.5-24 cm
WINGSPAN
22-30 cm

The Gray catbird is a medium-sized North American and Central American perching bird. It has somber gray coloring, a black top to its head, and bright rusty feathers beneath its tail. They are relatives of thrashers and mockingbirds, sharing that group’s vocal abilities, able to copy the sounds of other birds and incorporate them into their own song. In some areas, Gray catbirds are even known as Slate-colored mockingbirds.

Di

Diurnal

Ca

Carnivore

In

Insectivores

Ve

Vermivorous

He

Herbivore

Fr

Frugivore

Te

Terrestrial

Al

Altricial

Ar

Arboreal

Te

Territorial

Ov

Oviparous

Co

Congregatory

Mo

Monogamy

Fl

Flocking

Mi

Migrating

G

starts with

Ch

Chatterboxes
(collection)

Video

Distribution

Geography

Gray catbirds are native to most of temperate North America east of the Rocky Mountains. They migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in winter; except for the occasional vagrant they always stay east of the American Cordillera. Gray catbirds usually avoid dense, unbroken woodlands, and do not inhabit coniferous, pine woodland. They prefer a dense vegetative substrate, especially if thorny vegetation is present. Scrublands, woodland edges, overgrown farmland, and abandoned orchards are generally among the preferred locations of these birds. In Bermuda, they prefer scrub and myrtle swamp. During the winter season, Gray catbirds are often found in berry-rich thickets, especially within proximity of water sources.

Gray Catbird habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Gray catbirds are diurnal birds, though they migrate at night. During the day they spend most of their time feeding, gleaning insects from the ground and off vegetation, or foraging in treetops. During the breeding season and winter, mating pairs are territorial and males defend a small area around their nest. During winter, the males and females will defend separate territories. When it's time to migrate, Gray catbirds gather in flocks numbering 10 to 15 individuals. These birds communicate with each other through visual means, using special attitudes of their head and feathers, as well as by way of songs and calls. They are named for their cat-like call and are able to mimic the songs of other birds, as well as those of tree frogs, and even mechanical sounds. Their alarm call resembles the quiet calls of a male mallard. Gray catbirds are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively by flashing their wings and tails and by making their signature mew sounds. They may also even attack and peck predators that come too near their nests.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Gray catbirds are carnivores (insectivores, vermivores) and herbivores (frugivores). They eat mostly insects (ants, beetles, caterpillars, flies, and moths) and spiders. They also eat holly berries, cherries, elderberries, poison ivy, bay, and blackberries.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
April-early August
INCUBATION PERIOD
12-14 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
12 days
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
1-5 eggs

Gray catbirds are monogamous breeders. They form pairs soon after they arrive at the breeding grounds in spring, where courtship displays begin. The male sings, then pauses to rush off after the female. He struts and wheels about with wings lowered and tail erect, showing off the chestnut patch on his undertail coverts. The breeding season occurs from April to early August and birds usually produce two broods each season. The female constructs a bulky open nest within 2 m of the ground, using twigs, scraps, and bits of paper. 1 to 5 turquoise eggs are laid and incubation is by the female, for 12 to 14 days, while her mate stands guard nearby, occasionally feeding her. The young are helpless when they hatch, partially covered by dark down. They are fed by both parents and leave the nest when they are 10 to 11 days old. Parents will continue to feed their chicks for up to 12 more days. Gray catbirds become reproductively mature when they are one year old.

Population

Population threats

Gray catbirds are widespread and generally plentiful. However, in Bermuda in recent years, their numbers have been reduced greatly due to deforestation and the predation of nests by introduced species (such as the European starling and the great kiskadee).

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource, the total breeding population size of the Gray catbird is 27 million individuals, 87% of them spending some time in the U.S., 13% of them breeding in Canada, and the remaining 25% wintering in Mexico. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and their numbers today remain stable.

Ecological niche

Gray catbirds are important as predators of insects, possibly being especially important in controlling infestations of the gypsy moth larvae. They are a food source for their predators.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Gray catbird’s syrinx (being a double instrument located where the trachea separates into two bronchi) is unusual in that both sides can operate independently, meaning that they are able to sing using two voices at the same time.
  • Gray catbirds can produce over 100 different sorts of sounds.
  • The long song of the Gray catbird may last up to 10 minutes.
  • Gray catbirds belong to the ‘Dumetella’ genus, which means “small thicket”, which is where this bird can be found hiding.
  • The nests of this species often have the eggs of Brown-headed cowbirds laid in them. However, the Gray catbird is one of several species that can learn to recognize the eggs of the cowbird and push them out of the nest.
  • When eating on the ground, these birds toss aside leaves with their beaks rather than using their feet to scratch.
  • A group of catbirds is called a "mewing" or a "seat" of catbirds.

References

1. Gray Catbird Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_catbird
2. Gray Catbird on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22711013/0
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/698712

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About