grey catbird

Gray Catbird

The Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is a medium-sized northern American perching bird of the mimid family. It is the only member of New World catbird genus Dumetella. Like the Black Catbird, it is among the basal lineages of the Mimidae.

Adults are dark gray with a slim, black bill and dark eyes. They have a long dark tail, dark legs and a dark cap; they are rust-colored underneath their tail.


This species is named for its cat-like call but, like many members of the Mimidae family, it also mimics the songs of other birds, as well as tree frogs and even mechanical sounds. Because it has a syrinx like most birds, it is able to make two sounds at the same time. The alarm call resembles the quiet calls of a male mallard.

A Gray Catbird's song is easily distinguished from that of the Northern Mockingbird or Brown Thrasher because the mockingbird repeats phrases 3 to 4 times, the brown thrasher usually repeats each phrase twice, but the catbird sings each phrase only once. The catbird's song is usually described as more raspy and less musical than that of a mockingbird.

In contrast to the many songbirds that choose a prominent perch from which to sing, the catbird often elects to sing from inside a bush or small tree, where it is obscured from view by the foliage.


Their breeding habitat is semi-open areas with dense, low growth across most of North America. They are found in urban, suburban, and rural habitats; in the winter quarters they actually seem to associate with humans more. They build a bulky cup nest in a shrub or tree, close to the ground. Eggs are light blue in color, and clutch size ranges from 1-5, with 2-3 eggs most common. Both parents take turns feeding the young birds.

They migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico and Central America in winter. The smaller Bermudian birds, which have narrow and shorter tail feathers and primaries, were described as bermudianus, but this taxon was never widely accepted. They are extremely rare vagrants to western Europe.

These birds forage on the ground in leaf litter. They mainly eat insects and berries; in the winter quarters, Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) and Trophis racemosa (Moraceae) bear fruit well-liked by this species, and such trees can be planted to attract the Grey Catbird into parks and gardens . Grey Catbirds are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively by flashing their wings and tails and by making their signature mew sounds. They are also known to even attack and peck predators that come too near their nests. They also will destroy eggs of the Brown-headed Cowbird laid in their nests by pecking it.

This species is generally plentiful and widespread. It is not considered threatened by the IUCN. On Bermuda however, Grey Catbirds were once very common, but their numbers have been greatly reduced in recent years by deforestation and nest predation by introduced species (including the Great Kiskadee and the European Starling).

In the United States, this species receives special legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.



  • Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • (2004): Systematic position of the Socorro mockingbird Mimodes graysoni. J. Avian Biol. 35: 195-198. (HTML abstract)
  • (2007): The potential of fruiting trees to enhance converted habitats for migrating birds in southern Mexico. Bird Conservation International 17(1): 45-61. PDF fulltext
  • (2001): Molecular systematics and biogeography of Antillean thrashers, tremblers, and mockingbirds (Aves: Mimidae). Auk 118(1): 35–55. DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2001)118[0035:MSABOA]2.0.CO;2 HTML fulltext without images

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