Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

Gray Catbird

About the Bird

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Seen/Heard at
Decorah, Decorah North

Gray Catbirds are ground foragers. During the summer, they eat large numbers of invertebrates, including beetles, ants, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, moths, dragonflies, and crane flies. Like many ground foragers, they forage on the ground in the morning and move higher into trees as the day warms and insects rise. Gray Catbirds also eat fruit, including holly berries, elderberries, poison ivy berries, green briar berries, bay berries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, and strawberries. Ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent stated that they were known to eat cheese, bread, raisins, currants, milk, corn flakes and puffed wheat soaked in milk, mushrooms, garbage, boiled potato, fried fish, beef stew, peanuts, and beef soup, while nature blogger Joe Smith suggests putting out grape jelly and soaked raisins to attract them to your feeder. They will destroy the eggs and nestlings of other birds, but it is not known whether they eat them.

Gray Catbirds nest from early May through mid August. Females use twigs, straw, bark, leaves, plant stalks, and mud to build bulky, cup-shaped nests, which they line with soft materials, including more grass, rootlets, hair, and pine needles. Males bring materials to the nest but do very little construction. Gray Catbirds lay 1-6 turquoise green eggs and produce one to three clutches per year. Females incubate eggs for 12-15 days and both parents tend young, which leave the nest 10-11 days after hatching. To learn more, visit Cornell’s website.

Female Gray Catbirds assist hatching by pecking at the egg and removing shell from nestling. The female may eat the shell or remove it from the nest. Gray Catbirds are named for their ‘meowing’ call, but can imitate many other birds and animals:

Bird Range Maps of North America
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003.
Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA. Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy – Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International – CABS, World Wildlife Fund – US, and Environment Canada – WILDSPACE.
Web Link:
Birds of North America:
Photo by Alan Vernon
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General Description
Gray Catbirds are gray. They have darker gray upperparts and lighter gray underparts, although the difference between the two is not always pronounced. They have small black caps, black foreheads, dark gray to black tails, and a rusty red patch beneath their tails.

Gray Catbirds migrate from Decorah to the tropics, wintering in Mexico from Tamaulipas south through the Yucatán Penisula.

Length: 8.3-9.4 in/21-24 cm
Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in/22-30 cm
Weight: 0.8-2.0 oz/23.2-56.5 g

Wing Design
Elliptical. Optimized for bursts of fast, tightly controlled flight. Excellent at taking off quickly, maneuvering through branches, and avoiding predators.

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Range Map

Range Map