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Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: MIMIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

If you’re convinced you’ll never be able to learn bird calls, start with the Gray Catbird. Once you’ve heard its catty mew you won’t forget it. Follow the sound into thickets and vine tangles and you’ll be rewarded by a somber gray bird with a black cap and bright rusty feathers under the tail. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song.

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Songs

Male Gray Catbirds sing a long, halting series of short notes; one whole song can last many minutes. Sounds include whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones. The notes often are imitations of other birds as well as of frogs and mechanical sounds. The series of sounds is random, but certain notes are often repeated. Catbirds don’t repeat syllables as many times in a row as Northern Mockingbirds do. Females sing infrequently, and when they do, their songs are sung more quietly.

Calls

The most common call is a raspy mew that sounds like a cat. Catbirds also make a loud, chattering chek-chek-chek and a quiet quirt.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

Find This Bird

Listen for the distinctive mew call of the Gray Catbird, or for its imitation of several species during a long, seemingly improvised series of notes. When the male is singing, look for him at the top of a dense, tangled thicket. Gray Catbirds will also often come to investigate if you make a "pishing" sound when they are in the area.

Get Involved

Visit our NestWatch website to learn how to find nests, observe nesting activity, and report the results

Enhance the beauty of your yard and attract more wildlife. Visit our pages on landscaping for birds.

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Whose Nest Is it?

Gray Catbird: Sitting in the catbird seat (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)