Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis

Rather plain but with lots of personality, the Gray Catbird often hides in the shrubbery, making an odd variety of musical and harsh sounds -- including the catlike mewing responsible for its name. At other times it moves about boldly in the open, jerking its long tail expressively. Most catbirds winter in the southern United States or the tropics, but a few linger far to the north if they have access to a reliable source of berries or a well-stocked bird feeder.
Conservation status At least in the east, populations seem to have been increasing in recent decades.
Family Mockingbirds and Thrashers
Habitat Undergrowth, brush, thorn scrub, suburban gardens. At all seasons, favors dense low growth. Most common in leafy thickets along the edges of woods and streams, shrubby swamps, overgrown brushy fields, and hedges in gardens. Avoids unbroken forest and coniferous woods.
Rather plain but with lots of personality, the Gray Catbird often hides in the shrubbery, making an odd variety of musical and harsh sounds -- including the catlike mewing responsible for its name. At other times it moves about boldly in the open, jerking its long tail expressively. Most catbirds winter in the southern United States or the tropics, but a few linger far to the north if they have access to a reliable source of berries or a well-stocked bird feeder.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Does much foraging on ground, flipping leaves aside with bill as it seeks insects. Feeds on berries up in shrubs and trees.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-5, rarely 2-6. Greenish blue, rarely with some red spots. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-11 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-11 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects and berries. Especially in early summer, eats many beetles, ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, true bugs, and other insects, as well as spiders and millipedes. Nestlings are fed almost entirely on insects. More than half the annual diet of adults may be vegetable matter, especially in fall and winter, when they eat many kinds of wild berries and some cultivated fruit. Rarely catches small fish. At feeders, will eat a bizarre assortment of items including doughnuts, cheese, boiled potato, and corn flakes.


Nesting

Early in breeding season, male sings constantly in morning and evening, sometimes at night. Courtship may involve male chasing female, posturing and bowing with wings drooped and tail raised; male may face away from female to show off patch of chestnut under tail. When Brown-headed Cowbirds lay eggs in nests of this species, the cowbird eggs are usually punctured and ejected by the adult Catbirds. Nest: Placed in dense shrubs, thickets, briar tangles, or low trees, usually 3-10' above the ground. Nest (built mostly by female) is a large bulky cup of twigs, weeds, grass, leaves, and sometimes pieces of trash, lined with rootlets and other fine materials.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Apparently migrates mostly at night. Birds breeding in the northwest seem to migrate east before turning south in fall, since they are rarely seen in the southwest.

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Migration

Apparently migrates mostly at night. Birds breeding in the northwest seem to migrate east before turning south in fall, since they are rarely seen in the southwest.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A long, irregular succession of musical and mechanical notes and phrases; a cat-like mewing. Sometimes seems to mimic other birds.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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