SIB “Bird of the Week” – Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis 
Length:  8.5″; Wingspan: 11″; Weight: 1.3 oz.

Gray Catbird - Ed Konrad
Gray Catbird – Ed Konrad

If you struggle with learning bird songs and calls, try starting with the “catty mew” of the Gray Catbird.  Just the sound of it makes you think of a cat which will help you remember its name!

These birds are migratory, but you can hear and see them all year round on Seabrook Island.  They are a medium-sized, slender songbird with a long, rounded, black tail and a narrow, straight bill. Catbirds are fairly long legged and have broad, rounded wings.  They give the impression of being entirely slaty gray, however, look closely and you’ll see a small black cap, blackish tail and a rich rufous-brown patch under the tail.

The Gray Catbird diet consists mostly of insects and berries. Especially in early summer, it 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.  To attract Gray Catbirds, plant shrubs in areas of your yard near young deciduous trees. Catbirds also love fruit, so you can entice them with plantings of native fruit-bearing trees and shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry.

It belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.  Look for Gray Catbirds in dense tangles of shrubs, small trees, and vines, along forest edges, stream-side thickets, old fields, and fencerows.  On Seabrook, catbirds are regular in the myrtles leading to the beach and along estuaries and the edges of woods (the Nature Trail, etc.). If you listen for their cat-like meow you will be more likely to find them.

Like its larger cousin the Northern Mockingbird, not only does the Gray Catbird have a similar look, but they can have a large repertoire of melodies and sounds.  Watch this video to hear it imitate many other bird species and even a frog!

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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