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Gray Catbird Life History


Habitat Open WoodlandsGray 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.Back to top


Food InsectsIn 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest ShrubCatbirds 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.

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-6 eggs
Number of Broods:2-3 broods
Egg Length:0.9-1.0 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.
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Behavior Ground ForagerYou’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.Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernGray Catbirds are common and their populations were stable from 1966 to 2014, 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% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 13% breeding in Canada, and 25% wintering in Mexico. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the the 2014 State of the Birds 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.Back to top

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.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Smith, Robert J., Margret I. Hatch, David A. Cimprich and Frank R. Moore. (2011). Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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