Field Guide/Birds/Dumetella carolinensis

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Dumetella carolinensis (Gray Catbird)
Gray Catbird
The Gray Catbird is a medium-sized perching bird.

Adults are dark gray with a slim, black bill and dark eyes. They have a long dark tail, dark legs and a dark cap; they are rust-colored underneath their tail.

Their breeding habitat is semi-open areas with dense, low growth across most of North America. They are found in urban, suburban, and rural habitats. They build a bulky cup nest in a shrub or tree, close to the ground. Eggs are light blue in color, and clutch size ranges from 1-5, with 2-3 eggs most common. Both parents take turns feeding the young birds.

They migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico and Central America.

These birds forage on the ground in leaf litter, and love freshly worked earth. Some may even visit a freshly turned garden while the gardener is still present. They mainly eat insects and berries.

In the United States, this species receives special legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The catbird is named for its cat-like call, but it also mimics the songs of other birds. A catbird's song is easily distinguished from that of the Northern Mockingbird or Brown Thrasher because the mockingbird repeats phrases 3-4 times, and the brown thrasher usually repeats each phrase twice, whereas the catbird sings each phrase only once. The catbird's song is usually described as more raspy and less musical than a mockingbird.

The catbird produces a variety of calls, including the familiar ones resembling a cat's meow, as well as an alarm call which resembles the quiet quacking of a male mallard.

In contrast to many songbirds which choose a prominent perch from which to sing, the catbird often chooses to sing from inside a bush or small tree, where they are obscured from view by the foliage.

The syrinx of gray catbirds has an unusual structure that not only allows them to make mewing sounds like that of a cat but also allows them to imitate other birds, tree frogs, and even mechanical sounds that they hear. Their unusual syrinx also allows them to sing in two voices at once.

Gray catbirds are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively to them by flashing their wings and tails and by making their signature mew sounds. They are also known to even attack and peck predators that come too near their nests.