- 8.3–9.4 in
- 8.7–11.8 in
- 0.8–2 oz
- Slightly smaller than a Northern Mockingbird
- Mímido gris (Spanish)
- Monqueur chat (French)
- 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 was at least 17 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in New Jersey in 2001. It had been banded in Maryland in 1984.
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.
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.
- Clutch Size
- 1–6 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 2-3 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.9–1 in
- Egg Width
- 0.5–0.6 in
- 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.
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.
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.
© J.M. Kosciw
© Michael J. Hopiak / CLO
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.
Gray 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.
- Cimprich, David A. and Frank R. Moore. 1995. Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 167 (A. Poole, Ed.). The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
- Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A Knopf, New York.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity Records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2014. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2014 Analysis.
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.
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.
Visit our NestWatch website to learn how to find nests, observe nesting activity, and report the results
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