Some individuals of this species spend the winter in the southern portions of East Florida, where I have found them during the months of December and January; but the greater number retire beyond the limits of the United States about the middle of October. They are very rarely seen in the State of Louisiana, nor have I known any to breed in that portion of the country. They pass in abundance through Georgia and the Carolinas early in September, feeding then on the berries of the sweet gum, those of the poke and sumach, the seeds of grasses, &c. On their return in spring, they reach the neighbourhood of Charleston about the 20th of March, when they feed on insects found along the lanes and garden-walks; but none are heard to sing, or are found to breed there. They are abundant during summer in the whole of the western country, and are plentifully dispersed from Virginia to the middle portions of Massachusetts, beyond which, proceeding eastward, I saw none. They are in fact unknown in the State of Maine, as well as in the British provinces.
Their migration is performed mostly during night, when they move slowly from bush to bush, scarcely ever extending their flight beyond the breadth of the rivers which they meet with. In a place where not an individual is to be seen in an afternoon, in the months of April or May, a considerable number may be found the following morning. They seem to give a preference to the Middle States during the summer season. Pennsylvania is particularly favoured by them; and it would be difficult to walk through an orchard or garden, along a field, or the borders of a wood, without being saluted by their plaintive notes. They breed in these places with much carelessness, placing their nests in any bush, tree, or briar that seems adapted for the purpose, and seeming to think it unnecessary to conceal them from man, who indeed ought to protect such amiable birds, but who sometimes destroys them in revenge for the trifling depredations which they commit on the fruits of the garden.
No sooner has the Cat-bird made its appearance in the country of its choice, than its song is heard from the topmost branches of the trees around, in the dawn of the morning. This song is a compound of many of the gentler trills and sweeter modulations of our various woodland choristers, delivered with apparent caution, and with all the attention and softness necessary to enable the performer to please the ear of his mate. Each cadence passes on without faltering; and if you are acquainted with the song of the birds he so sweetly imitates, you are sure to recognise the manner of the different species. When the warmth of his loving bosom engages him to make choice of the notes of our best songsters, he brings forth sounds as mellow and as powerful as those of the Thrasher and Mocking-bird. These medleys, when heard in the calm and balmy hours of retiring day, always seem to possess a double power, and he must have a dull ear indeed, and little relish for the simple melodies of nature, who can listen to them without delight.
The manners of this species are lively, and at intervals border on the grotesque. It is extremely sensitive, and will follow an intruder to a considerable distance, wailing and mewing as it passes from one tree to another, its tail now jerked and thrown from side to side, its wings drooping, and its breast deeply inclined. On such occasions, it would fain peck at your hand; but these exhibitions of irritated feeling seldom take place after the young are sufficiently grown to be able to take care of themselves. In some instances, I have known this bird to recognise at once its friend from its foe, and to suffer the former even to handle the treasure deposited in its nest, with all the marked assurance of the knowledge it possessed of its safety; when, on the contrary, the latter had to bear all its anger. The sight of a dog seldom irritates it, while a single glance at the wily cat excites the most painful paroxysms of alarm. It never neglects to attack a snake with fury, although it often happens that it becomes the sufferer for its temerity.
The vulgar name which this species bears, has probably rendered it more conspicuous than it would otherwise be, and has also served to bring it into some degree of contempt with persons not the best judges of the benefits it confers on the husbandman in early spring, when, with industrious care, it cleanses his fruit-trees of thousands of larva and insects, which, in a single day, would destroy, while yet in the bud, far more of his fruit than the Cat-bird would eat in a whole season. But alas, selfishness, the usual attendant of ignorance, not only heaps maledictions on the harmless bird, but dooms it to destruction. The boys pelt the poor Thrush with stones, and destroy its nest whenever an opportunity presents; the farmer shoots it to save a pear; and the gardener to save a raspberry; some hate it, not knowing why: in a word, excepting the poor, persecuted crow, I know no bird more generally despised and tormented than this charming songster.
The attachment which the Cat-bird shews towards its eggs or young is affecting. It even possesses a humanity, or rather a generosity and gentleness, worthy of beings more elevated in the scale of nature. It has been known to nurse, feed, and raise the young of other species, for which no room could be afforded in their nests. It will sit on its eggs after the nest has been displaced, or even after it has been carried from one bush to another.
Like all our other Thrushes, this species is very fond of bathing and rolling itself in the dust or sand of the roads or fields. Several are frequently, seen together on the borders of small ponds or clear rivulets, immersed up to their body, splashing the water about them until completely wetted; then, ascending to the tops of the nearest bushes, they plume themselves with apparent care, notwithstanding which they are at times so infested with a minute species of louse as to be destroyed by it. This is also the case with the Mocking-bird and the Ferruginous Thrush, many individuals of which I have known to be killed by these parasitic animals.
Although the Cat-bird is a pleasant songster, it is seldom kept in a cage, and I believe all attempts at breeding it in aviaries have failed. Its food consists of fruits and berries of all descriptions, worms, wasps, and various other insects. Its flight is low, often rapid, and somewhat protracted, generally performed by glidings, accompanied with sudden jerks of the tail. It moves on the ground with alertness and grace, not unfrequently going before a person the whole length of the garden-walk.
The nest of the Cat-bird is large, composed externally of dry twigs and briars, mixed with withered leaves, weeds, and grass, and lined with black fibrous roots, neatly arranged in a circular form. The eggs are from four to six, of a plain glossy greenish-blue, without spots. Two and sometimes three broods are raised in the season.
I have placed a pair of these birds on a branch of the blackberry bush, on the fruit of which they feed. The young attain their full plumage before they depart in autumn.
CAT-BIRD, Turdus lividus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 90.
TURDUS FELIVOX, Bonap. Syn., p. 75.
ORPHEUS FELIVOX, Cat-bird, Swains & Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 192.
CAT-BIRD, Turdus felivox, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 332.
CAT-BIRD, Turdus felivox, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 171; vol. v. p. 440.
Bill of moderate length, rather weak, slightly arched, broad at the base, compressed, towards the end acute; upper mandible with the ridge rather acute, the sides convex, the edges sharp, the tip a little declinate; lower mandible nearly straight. Nostrils basal, oblong, half closed above by a membrane, and partially concealed by the feathers. Head of ordinary size, neck rather long, general form slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus compressed, anteriorly scutellate, acute behind; toes free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal; hind toe rather stronger; claws compressed, arched, acute.
Plumage soft and blended. Bristles at the base of the bill. Feathers of the hind head longish. Wings of ordinary length, broad, rounded, the fifth quill longest, the fourth nearly equal, the first very short. Tail long, rounded, of twelve straight narrowly rounded feathers.
Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet dark umber. The general colour of the plumage above is blackish-grey, the head and tail brownish-black, as are the inner webs of the quills. The cheeks, and under surface in general, deep bluish-grey, the abdomen paler, and the under tail-coverts brownish-red. The outer tail-feather transversely barred with white on the inner web.
Length 9 inches, extent of wings 12; bill along the ridge (7 1/2)/12, along the edge (9 1/2)/12; tarsus 1 1/12.
The female is a little paler in the tints of the plumage, but in other respects is similar to the male. THE BLACKBERRY.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.