Rural Perspectives: The gray catbird, a summer visitor, can sing two songs at once

The gray catbird is related to the mockingbird
and has a collection of about 100 songs.

by Diane Constable

I thought I heard a kitten!

The gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is a summer resident in our area and is a bird more likely heard than seen. One of its favorite calls sounds just like a mewing cat, which is how it got its name.

This handsome bird has a deep gray color with a distinct black cap on its head. There also is chestnut feathering under its tail that is not easily seen.

What it lacks in color is more than made up for in its personality. The catbird likes to hide in shrubs and trees, although you can sometimes find it searching lawns for food as well. It likes fruits and berries and also eats a variety of insects, caterpillars and moths — the invasive gypsy moth is a favorite.

The catbird has two clutches a season of about one to six eggs each. Eggs are turquoise-green with small red spots. The eggs hatch after about 12 days, and the chicks are ready to leave the nest about 11 days later.

It is related to the mockingbird, and indeed it has a big collection of about 100 songs. The catbird also has been known to sing for up to 10 minutes. One of its most common tweets sounds just like a mewing cat — which is how it got its name.

Fun Fact: Both sides of the vocal syrinx of the catbird can work independently of each other, enabling it to sing two songs at the same time.

Diane Gray Constable

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