Nesting Habits of Gray Catbirds: Mimicry Masters

The Gray Catbird is in the family of Mimidae, which includes Mockingbirds and Thrashers.

These birds are renowned for their remarkable vocal abilities, often mimicking the sounds of other animals and bird species.

In-fact, a single 4 1/2-minute song of one Gray Catbird consisted of 170 distinct phrases.

This mimicry is often used for territorial defense and attracting mates.

gray catbird

Credit Photo: Andy Morffew

The cat-like mewing call of the Gray Catbird serves as an alarm call, alerting others to the presence of potential predators or dangers in the vicinity.

While it's not an exact imitation of a cat, it effectively communicates the need for caution.

Fairly inquisitive birds. They may pop out of thick vegetation to investigate if they hear someone approaching.

Once satisfied that there is no immediate threat, they will quickly retreat to cover and go about their business.

Both males and females produce the "meow" call.

However, it's worth noting that this vocalization doesn't sound exactly like a cat, and it's unlikely to deceive anyone.

What They Look Like

Catbirds are 8 to 9 1/2 inches long. Mainly gray, darkest on the wings and tail.

Look for a black cap and a rust or cinnamon-colored patch under the tail.

Catbird Meow Call and Song What Do They Sound Like

Press the play button to hear the Catbird sound and call.

Habitat Preference

Gray Catbirds are commonly found in dense thickets, shrubs, and forest edges. Often found in residential areas.

They prefer habitats with a mix of open areas and dense vegetation, as this provides them with suitable foraging opportunities and protective cover.

Gray Catbird Mating - Courtship Habits and Behaviors

Gray Catbirds are monogamous birds for the breeding season. Pairs that are successful one year may breed again in future seasons.

Pairs are usually bonded shortly after arriving at their breeding grounds in late March through April.

Gray catbirds have a complex courtship behavior that involves both vocalizations and physical displays.

During courtship, males will perch in a prominent location and sing a series of melodious songs to attract a mate.

These songs consist of various notes, phrases, and trills, and are often repeated in a pattern.

Watch the male when around a female as he raises his head up or down while fluffing out his body feathers to entice her to be his mate.

During the breeding season, the males will continually chase other males from their territory. Often they'll chase other species of birds away.

Gray Catbirds have been known to pierce the eggs and destroy the nestlings of other species of birds.

Once a pair bond is formed, nest building follows.

Catbird Nesting Habits

Adult Catbird Foraging on Berries

Breeding, egg laying, and nesting season begins in late April when they arrive at the breeding grounds and may extend into June, depending on their nesting location, whether it's further South or North.

Female Gray Catbirds are the primary nest builders. The male will help with nest construction but usually adds very little.

The cup-shaped nest is made of twigs, leaves, grasses, and grapevine bark, lined with rootlets, and pine needles. The inner lining may include horsehair if available.

Most catbird nests are located in shrubs, thick vine tangles, or small trees about 2 to 10 feet above the ground.

What do Gray Catbirds Eggs Look Like?

The Gray Catbirds eggs are a dark blue-green as the image shows in the nest. Females lay a clutch of 2 - 6 eggs.

egg and nest of gray catbird

Gray Catbird Nest and Egg

The female catbird will sit on the eggs (incubate) for 12 to 15 days before they hatch. Females leave the eggs for short periods to feed.

The young will leave the nest within 10 to 13 days after hatching.

Both adult birds will continue to feed their young for 12 days after the young leave the nest.

Gray Catbird Nesting Stats
Gray Catbird Nesting Stats
Eggs 2 - 6
Incubation 12 - 15 days
Nestling Phase 10- 13 days
Broods 1 - 3

Gray Catbirds typically have 1 to 3 broods per breeding season.

They do not reuse the nest for second broods or in subsequent years.

Gray Catbirds are occasionally targeted by the Brown-headed Cowbird, a brood parasite.

Female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, including Gray Catbirds.

If a cowbird egg is laid in a catbird nest, the catbirds will recognize it as foreign and reject or remove it from the nest.

Successful pairs often return to the same area year after year, while unsuccessful pairs abandon their territory.

What do Gray Catbirds Eat?

The diet of Gray Catbirds consists of insects, spiders, and small fruits. Catbirds eat a lot of berries.

As a matter of fact, berries make up as much as 50 percent of their diet.

These birds forage primarily on the ground and in low foliage but will also search in treetops.

Catbirds search for food on the ground by tossing leaves and debris quickly, causing insects to scurry, and snatching them up before they get away.

Baby Catbird Chirps to be Fed

The way I get them to the fruit feeder is by providing grape jelly in our Oriole feeder trays. Check it out here: Fruit Feeder.

Migration of Gray Catbirds

Gray Catbirds migrate from their summer range to winter in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in late August - early September.

Small but increasing numbers remain in the North through the winter.

You'll most likely see them along the New England coast and on Southward.

If you see Catbirds in your backyard during winter, try placing suet, raisins, and blueberries out to keep them well-fed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the lifespan of a Gray Catbird?

Gray Catbirds have an average lifespan of 2 to 6 years in the wild, although some individuals may live up to 10 years.

Do Gray Catbirds have any predators?

They face a range of predators, including domestic cats, snakes, raccoons, and birds of prey, like hawks and owls.

Their cryptic plumage and preference for dense vegetation provide some protection against these threats.

Are Gray Catbirds Rare?

gray catbird

Population Trends: Gray Catbirds have shown stable or increasing population trends in many regions. So, not a rare bird.

Their adaptability to various habitats and their ability to utilize backyard feeders have contributed to their success.

However, habitat loss and fragmentation remain potential threats to their long-term survival.

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Birds and Blooms Pioneer Woman People Magazine First For Women