• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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.

Subscribe to Living Bird Magazine
BNA ML combo package

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
8.3–9.4 in
21–24 cm
Wingspan
8.7–11.8 in
22–30 cm
Weight
0.8–2 oz
23.2–56.5 g
Relative Size
Slightly smaller than a Northern Mockingbird
Other Names
  • Mímido gris (Spanish)
  • Monqueur chat (French)

Cool Facts

  • The Gray Catbird’s long song may last for up to 10 minutes.
  • The male Gray Catbird uses his loud song to proclaim his territory. He uses a softer version of the song when near the nest or when a bird intrudes on his territory. The female may sing the quiet song back to the male.
  • The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.
  • The oldest known Gray Catbird lived to be 17 years 11 months old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Gray Catbirds live amid dense shrubs, vine tangles, and thickets of young trees in both summer and winter. Human disturbance and development often create these habitats in the form of clearings, roadsides, fencerows, abandoned farmland, and residential areas. On tropical wintering grounds catbirds spend more time in forests than they do while in North America.

Food


Insects

In summer, Gray Catbirds eat mainly ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, and moths. When fruits are available they also eat holly berries, cherries, elderberries, poison ivy, greenbrier, bay, and blackberries. They are sometimes garden pests, eating or damaging raspberries, cherries, grapes, and strawberries.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–6 eggs
Number of Broods
2-3 broods
Egg Length
0.9–1 in
2.2–2.6 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.6 in
1.2–1.6 cm
Incubation Period
12–15 days
Nestling Period
10–11 days
Egg Description
Turquoise green, sometimes with small red spots.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, eyes closed, helpless and partially covered with dark brown or gray down.
Nest Description

Females build the nests, with males sometimes supplying materials. Nests take 5-6 days to build. The final product is a bulky, open cup made of twigs, straw, bark, mud, and sometimes pieces of trash. It has a finely woven inner lining of grass, hair, rootlets, and pine needles. Finished nests are about 5.5 inches across and 2 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Catbirds usually build nests on horizontal branches hidden at the center of dense shrubs, small trees, or in vines, including dogwood, hawthorn, cherry, rose, elderberry, grape, honeysuckle, and blackberry. Nests are typically around 4 feet off the ground, but may be on the ground or as high as 60 feet.

Gray Catbird Nest Image 1
© J.M. Kosciw

Gray Catbird Nest Image 2
© Michael J. Hopiak / CLO

Behavior


Ground Forager

You’ll find catbirds hopping through low vegetation or flying short distances at a time, just above the surrounding vegetation. Male catbirds are territorial during spring and summer, singing from prominent perches and chasing away intruders including several other species of birds. Males and females defend their own territories during winter, a time when territoriality is uncommon in many species. In altercations, Gray Catbirds may fluff up the breast and rump feathers, spread their tail, and open their bill toward the sky. Gray Catbirds sometimes destroy eggs and nestlings of woodland species including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Chipping Sparrow, and Song Sparrow.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Gray Catbirds are common and their populations were stable from 1966 to 2010, though there has been declines in the southeastern U.S., according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 27 million with 87 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 13 percent breeding in Canada, and 25 percent wintering in Mexico. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Catbirds tend to winter near the coast, making development of coastal habitat a possible concern for the future. Along parts of the Gulf Coast in winter, many catbirds are killed by cars as they fly across roads.

Credits

Range Map Help

Gray Catbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident along the Atlantic Coast; otherwise migratory. Catbirds from across North America spend winters along the Gulf Coast from Florida through Texas and all the way down Central America and the Caribbean.

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.

You Might Also Like

Whose Nest Is it?

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