Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gray Catbird

This pretty gray bird is the "Gray Catbird" (Dumetella carolinensis)
They are medium sized bird frequently found across most of North America. I've encountered them at our farm near the pond on a few occasions but this is the first time I've had one in my yard. I kept hearing an unusual song coming from a bird in the cherry tree in our yard. He stayed on the inside branches making it very difficult to see him. Then he flew to the elderberry bush. I literally chased this bird all over my yard before finally getting a good look at him. He flew out of the elderberry bush and sat for a few seconds on our split rail fence (pictured) I managed to take 2 photos before he flew off again. Their coloring is all over gray with a black crown and rusty underparts near the tail. There is nothing spectacular about their appearance, yet they are somehow very beautiful. He was singing his little heart out, I assume looking for a mate. At one point yesterday evening I could have swore I spotted a second one. So perhaps all his singing paid off and he found that special someone. He seems to be hanging close to the elderberry bush so with any luck maybe they will nest in there. They can set up a homestead next to the indigo bunting that is currently nesting there. Catbirds are often mistaken for Mockingbirds. Like Mockingbirds, Catbirds will mimic other bird songs. Unlike Mockingbirds who repeat their borrowed songs in three concurrent sequences, Catbirds repeat each song only once. The Mockingbird is larger and has white on its wing and tail feathers. When alarmed the Catbird will make a sound that very much resembles a "meow". I assume this catlike call is where they earned their common name. Many males, of other species, when seeking a mate will find a prominent spot perched on a pole, fence or treetop from which go sing. Catbirds prefer to "hide" within dense bushes and thickets and call out. Which is exactly the behavior observed with this particular bird. After locating a mate, the female will build a nest low to the ground in a dense bush or shrubbery. In this case I hope my elderberry bush. The female will lay up to 5 light blue eggs. The adults are very aggressive and will defend their nest by attacking anyone or anything that gets too close. Cowbirds often parasitize their nest, but the smart catbird will have none of that, he pecks a hole in the egg and destroys it. They are shy birds, but not easily intimidated. Catbirds are typically ground foragers, they eat insects, berries, wild grapes, elderberries (YEA!), cherries, poison ivy berries, etc. I am so pleased to have this lovely little bird stop off in my yard, my hope is that he decides to call it home.

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