Deer in Spring Landscape

Gray Catbird
Dumetella carolinensis

Gray Catbird. Photo by Dr. Thomas Barnes, USFWS

Description & Range:

The Gray Catbird is a medium size song bird 8 to 9 inches in length. This bird is mostly slate gray in color with a distinctive black cap and black tail. The underside of the tail tends to have some slight chestnut-coloring. Both males and females are identical in appearance.

Catbirds are usually found in Maryland from April to late October. After October, many Maryland catbirds migrate to the southern U.S. and some as far as Panama (unlike the Mockingbird which is found throughout the year in Maryland). Catbirds occupy much of the eastern and central United States throughout the summer months.

Habitat:

The Gray Catbird prefers tangled vegetation and dense shrubbery, especially in moist areas. These birds can be commonly found in urban and suburban environments that have ample shrub cover.

Catbird feeding her young by James Leupold, USFWSDiet:

In the summer, catbirds feed mainly on insects such as ants, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, bugs and spiders. This bird feeds on them from shrubs or saplings rarely from the ground.

Catbirds probably eat more fleshy fruits than any of the other songbirds. Most fruit feeding is done within 10 feet from the ground. Preferred fruits are blackberry, cherry, Holly, Bayberry, Greenbrier, Elderberry, Grape, blueberry, Pokeweed, Serviceberry, Virginia creeper, Dogwood, Hackberry, Sassafras and Spicebush.

Reproduction:

Females take on the responsibility of nest building, while males occasionally help with supplying the needed construction materials. The cup nests are made from an assortment of twigs, straw and bark woven and melded together with mud. Occasionally, trash can be weaved into the nest. The female will then lay 1-6 eggs which take up to 15 days to incubate. After almost two weeks, the young will fledge. Catbirds can hatch up to 3 broods in a good breeding season.

Sounds:

Catbirds, as their name suggests, produce a catlike mewing, and a "check-check" noise. Catbirds can also mimic like a Northern Mockingbird, although does not repeat. Some catbirds may sing for up to 10 minutes.

Behavior:

Catbirds can usually be found hopping through thick vegetation. Often, they are heard more than they are seen. Catbirds, especially in during nesting season, can be very territorial. Sometimes, catbirds go as far as to chase other songbirds like the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Chipping Sparrow and Song Sparrow away and destroy their nests. Catbirds will even defend their territories in the winter.

For more information on Gray Catbirds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology webpage.