Grey catbird, Slate-colored mockingbird, Common catbird, Northern catbird
The Gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is a medium-sized perching bird found in the Americs. It is the only member of the "catbird" genus Dumetella. In some areas it is known as the Slate-colored mockingbird.
Gray catbirds are plain lead gray almost all over. The top of the head is darker. The undertail coverts are rust-colored, and the remiges and rectrices are black, some with white borders. The slim bill, the eyes, and the legs and feet are also blackish. Males and females cannot be distinguished by their looks; different behaviors in the breeding season is usually the only clue to the observer. Juveniles are even plainer in coloration, with buffy undertail coverts.
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 swamps. During the winter season, Gray catbirds are often found in berry-rich thickets, especially within proximity of water sources.
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.
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.
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.
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).
According to the All About Birds resource, the total breeding population size of the Gray catbird is 27 million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and their numbers today remain stable.
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.