Birdhouses 101 - Catbird

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About The Catbird

CatbirdThere are actually different species of catbirds in existence like the white-eared cat bird, green catbird, spotted catbird, tooth-billed catbird, and grey catbird. However when people use the word catbird they usually refer to the grey catbird or Dumetella carolinensis. Grey catbirds have a dark grey plumage with a black crown and tail. Their long erect tails have chestnut undertail coverts that are distinctive. They also have slender bills, dark eyes, and black legs. Catbirds are slightly smaller than robins at approximately 8½ to 9Ό inches long and are a good deal slimmer. Like wrens, catbirds hold their tails upright most of the time, flicking them back and forth in a nervous manner. Catbirds are named so for their distinctive call which sounds like a cat’s meow.

The Catbird Nesting Preferences

Catbirds like to live in brushy woods and swampy thickets but are also often seen in farms, towns, and gardens. They usually build their nests in bushes, vines, and low trees near creeks. Catbird nests are large and are made of dry twigs, leaves, bark and roots and are lined with dark fibrous roots and pine needles. The nests are arranged in a circular manner and are usually found 3 to 15 feet above ground. The gray catbird lays 3 to 6 eggs that are glossy blue green in color.

Building a Birdhouse For The Catbird

Gray catbirds will nest on platforms when there are no natural nesting sites available. The recommended dimensions for a catbird platform are: 6” x 8” (floor), 8” (distance from floor to roof), 3’ to 10’ (mount height). It is also recommended that the platform built be open all four sides with using 2 to four corner posts to hold up the roof. Be sure to mount the platform near dense vegetation to encourage the use of the platform.

The Catbird Mating Habits

The gray catbird is migratory. Male catbirds usually arrive a few days before the female catbirds do on their breeding grounds. The male catbirds attract the female catbirds by singing on top of bushes and wait for the female catbirds to draw near after which they form their breeding pair. The gray catbirds are monogamous.

The Catbird Feeding Preferences

Gray catbirds are omnivorous with insects making up 60% of their diet. Some of the more common insects that they eat are ants, beetles, flies, caterpillars, moth, spiders, and aphids. The remaining 40% of their diet is made up of fruits like wild berries, blackberries, grapes, and grass seeds. Gray Catbirds acquire most of their food through foraging on treetops and the ground. They are also known to approach feeding stations to eat food like peanuts, currants, raisins, and bread crumbs.

Interesting Catbird Facts

The syrinx of gray catbirds has an unusual structure that not only allows them to make mewing sounds like that of a cat but also allows them to imitate other birds, tree frogs, and even mechanical sounds that they hear. Their unusual syrinx also allows them to sing in two voices at once.

Gray catbirds are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively to them 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.

Readers Comments

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Astrid yrigollen  5/25/2016)
We have to catbirds that come to our back yard to feed on the queen anne cherries and plums. I mostly notice them inthe grass after I have watered looking for live insects. The catbird aside from its loud screeching call to warn of danger has a lovely song. I was very suprised to hear it since I thought the only thing they did was make that loud screeching call. So catbirds are nice to have in the yard plus thet let you know when something or a stranger is in your yard that is not suppoused to be ( cats,dogs or people! )

cCL darrow  5/25/2016)
theres a cat bird in my november yard in MA who's tail has been pulled off, by a preditor not doubt. Im putting out canned fruit so far, for her,thrown into the bush where she retreats to. I read here that peanuts are good tpo and raisons. I'll try bread crumbs too. We have a lot of fruit baring bushes in coastal Hull,MA, so thats why we must keep our cat birds in the winter.thanks.CL

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