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GRAY CATBIRD

A secretive, but curious skulker of dense thickets, the Gray Catbird is heard more than it is seen. Its rambling song contains imitations of other bird songs, but the characteristic "mew" that gives it its name is not an imitation and sounds only vaguely cat-like.

Cool Facts

  • One male Gray Catbird was observed to be mated to two females in different territories. The territories were separated by another catbird territory, but the male defended both of them.

  • The male Gray Catbird uses his loud song to proclaim his territory. He uses a softer version of the song when near the nest or when a territorial intruder is nearby. The female may sing the quiet song back to the male.

  • Although the Brown-headed Cowbird lays eggs in Gray Catbird nests, the catbird throws most of them out. The catbird learns to recognize its own eggs, probably by looking at them. If a cowbird quickly replaces the first catbird egg in a nest, the catbird may recognize the cowbird egg as its own and throw out its own eggs as they are laid. But such mistakes are rare, and few catbirds are ever seen incubating cowbird eggs.

Description

  • Size: 21-24 cm (8-9 in)
  • Wingspan: 22-30 cm (9-12 in)
  • Weight: 23-56 g (0.81-1.98 ounces)

  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Small bill.
  • Long tail.
  • Uniform gray all over.
  • Black cap.

  • Undertail rufous.
  • Eyes black.
  • Legs and feet black.
  • Bill black.

Sex Differences

Sexes alike.

Immature

Similar to adult.

Similar Species

  • Northern Mockingbird is paler gray with white in wings and tail.
  • Juvenile European Starling is all gray, but has short tail and pointed bill, and lacks the black cap and rufous under tail.
  • Female Brown-headed Cowbird has short, thick bill and short tail, and lacks the black cap and rufous under tail.
  • Female Brewer's Blackbird has more pointed bill and shorter tail, and lacks the black cap and rufous under tail.

Sound

Song is a long slow series of warbled notes, ranging from whistles to squeaks, often including imitations of the songs and calls of other birds. Notes not given multiple times. Calls a raspy "mew" and a chattered "chek-chek-chek."

Summer Range

Breeds across southern Canada, southward to northeastern Arizona, and eastward to northern Florida.

Winter Range

Winters along East Coast from southern Massachusetts to Florida, and from the Gulf Coast southward into Central America and the Caribbean.

Habitat

Found in dense, shrubby habitats, such as abandoned farmland, fencerows, roadsides, streamsides, forest edges, and some residential areas.

Food

Insects and small fruits.

Behavior

Foraging

Gleans insects off vegetation and from ground.

Reproduction

Nest Type

Nest in dense shrubs, small trees, and vines. Nest a bulky cup made of twigs, bark, straw, mud, and sometimes paper and plastic. Lined with rootlets, fine grass, or hair.

Egg Description

Color: Uniform turquoise green.

Size: 22.3 26.0 mm x 12.316.0 mm
(0.9-1.0 in x 0.5-0.6 in)

Incubation period: 12-14 days.

Clutch Size

1-5 eggs.

Condition at Hatching

Helpless and partially covered with dark down.
Chicks fledge in 10-11 days.

Conservation Status

Widespread and common, but number in Southeast declining.

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