Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Brian E. Kushner/Shutterstock.com

Their songs have cat-like qualities and can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs.

Gray Catbird Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Mimidae
Genus
Dumetella
Scientific Name
Dumetella carolinensis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Gray Catbird Conservation Status


Gray Catbird Facts

Prey
Fruit and insects, such as berries, cherries, grasshoppers, and beetles
Main Prey
Berries
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
Fun Fact
Their songs have cat-like qualities and can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs.
Estimated Population Size
29 million
Biggest Threat
Urbanization and climate change
Most Distinctive Feature
Lead-gray plumage
Distinctive Feature
long tails and straight, narrow bills
Wingspan
8.7 to 11.8 inches
Incubation Period
12 to 13 days
Age Of Fledgling
10 to 11 days
Habitat
Scrubland, woodland edges, overgrown farmlands
Predators
Snakes, rats, cats, foxes, and squirrels
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Gray catbird
Special Features
Songbird syrinx
Location
North America, Central America
Average Clutch Size
4
Nesting Location
Dense shrubs and thickets
Migratory
1

Gray Catbird Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
  • Black
  • Dark Grey
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
6.3 years
Weight
0.8 to 2 ounces
Length
8.1 to 9.4 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
One year

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Listen for their mechanical, raspy mimicry as they hide in bushes and trees.

Summary

The gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is a medium-sized songbird native to North America. It inhabits dense vegetative areas like overgrown farmland and abandoned orchards, where it prefers to hide in thorny thickets and sing its songs of mimicry. Look for this species low to the ground as it forages for insects and berries. Learn everything there is to know about this catbird, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Gray Catbird Facts

  • This North American bird occasionally finds its way to Western Europe during migration.
  • Their songs have cat-like qualities and can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs.
  • They have a songbird syrinx and can make two sounds at once.
  • Gray catbirds are territorial and aggressive even during winter, which is rare for most birds.
  • Half of their diet consists of fruit and berries.

Where to Find the Gray Catbird

The gray catbird lives in North America in over 20 countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. This species is migratory, breeding in the temperate United States and Canada and wintering in the Southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. They are also extremely rare vagrants to Western Europe. Catbirds inhabit dense vegetative substrates, such as scrublands, woodland edges, overgrown farmland, and abandoned orchards. During the winter, they live in thickets near a water source with plenty of berries. Look for them low to the ground as they hop along thick vegetation, and listen for their mechanical, raspy mimicry as they hide in bushes and trees.

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Gray Catbird Nest

They place the nest three to ten feet above the ground in dense shrubs, thickets, and briar tangles. Females build a large bulky cup using twigs, leaves, grass, weeds, and trash and line the inside with finer material.

Scientific Name

The gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is from the Mimidae family, which consists of New World catbirds, thrashers, mockingbirds, and tremblers. This family is known for its vocalizations and ability to mimic many species. Its genus, Dumetella, is Latin for “thorny thicket” and refers to the bird’s propensity for singing in hidden undergrowth. Its specific name, Carolinensis, is New Latin for “from the Carolinas.” The gray catbird is monotypic, meaning it has no recognized subspecies.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Grey catbird
Named for its cat-like call, the gray catbird can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs. Its voice has a raspy mechanical quality.

Steve Biegler/Shutterstock.com

The gray catbird is a medium-sized passerine bird, measuring 8.1 to 9.4 inches long and weighing 0.8 to 2.0 ounces, with an 8.7 to 11.8-inch wingspan. They have long, rounded tails, straight, narrow bills, long legs, and broad wings. They are a lead-gray color all over, but the top of the head, tail, and wing remiges are a darker gray to black. Males and females are indistinguishable, but juveniles are plainer with buffy undertails. 

Named for its cat-like call, the gray catbird can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs. Its voice has a raspy mechanical quality. It has a songbird syrinx and can make two sounds at once. You won’t find them singing their songs while sitting perched on a branch. Instead, they prefer to hide inside bushes as they sing. They spend their days hopping through low vegetation and flying short distances. These birds are rather aggressive and territorial, even during winter. They often run off intruders and will even destroy the eggs and nestlings of other woodland bird species. 

Migration Pattern and Timing

Gray catbirds breed throughout most of the United States, except for the West Coast. They migrate to the Gulf Coast during winter, from Florida to Texas, down to Central America and the Caribbean. Populations along the US East Coast are nonmigratory and remain in their environments year-round.

Diet

Gray catbirds are omnivores, and half of their diet consists of fruit and berries.

What Does the Gray Catbird Eat?

They eat fruit such as holly berries, cherries, blackberries, and elderberries. In the summer, they rely more on insects, like grasshoppers, ants, beetles, worms, and other bugs. It forages for berries in shrubs and trees and looks for insects on the ground by flipping leaves aside.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the gray catbird as LC or “least concern.” Due to its extensive range and large, stable population, this species does not meet the “threatened” status thresholds. While this species does not face any imminent threats, it may be susceptible to the future effects of urbanization and climate change. Spring heat waves can endanger the young in their nests, and wildfires can destroy their habitats.

What Eats the Gray Catbird?

Their predators include snakes, rats, cats, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, blue jays, crows, and grackles. These animals mainly prey on catbird eggs and chicks but are not always successful. Gray catbird parents hide their nests in extremely dense shrubbery to prevent nest predation. Their gray plumage also acts as a camouflage as they move in the shadows of tangles. This species is not afraid of predators and flash its wings and tails while making its “mew” sounds.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Gray catbirds form monogamous pair bonds during breeding, and courtship involves singing, chasing, posturing, and bowing. Pairs produce two broods per season. Females lay an average of four (but can be anywhere from two to six) greenish-blue eggs. Females incubate alone for 12 to 13 days, but both parents assist in feeding the nestlings. The young fledge the nest 10 to 11 days after hatching. This species becomes sexually mature around one year old and lives an average of 6.3 years.

Population

The global gray catbird population is 29 million mature individuals, and their trends have been stable for the last 40 years in North America. They are also not experiencing any extreme fluctuations or fragmentations in their numbers.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Gray Catbird FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the gray catbird rare?

The gray catbird is common in North and Central America. They have a global population of 29 million mature individuals.

Where are grey catbirds found?

The gray catbird lives in North America in over 20 countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

Why do they call it a catbird?

Named for its cat-like call, the gray catbird can mimic other birds and animals, like tree frogs. Its voice has a raspy mechanical quality.

What do gray catbirds eat?

They eat fruit such as holly berries, cherries, blackberries, and elderberries. In the summer, they rely more on insects, like grasshoppers, ants, beetles, worms, and other bugs.

What threatens the gray catbird?

While this species does not face any imminent threats, it may be susceptible to the future effects of urbanization and climate change.

How big is the gray catbird?

The gray catbird is a medium-sized passerine bird, measuring 8.1 to 9.4 inches long and weighing 0.8 to 2.0 ounces, with an 8.7 to 11.8-inch wingspan.

What are gray catbird predators?

Their predators include snakes, rats, cats, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, blue jays, crows, and grackles.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. The Red List / BirdLife International, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22711013/94272855
  2. USDA Fire Effects Information System / Janet Sullivan, Available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/animals/bird/duca/all.html

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