Brooklyn Bird Watch: August 12
Gray Catbird. Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
Today Brooklyn Bird Watch features an excellent Heather Wolf photo of the Gray Catbird. The Gray Catbird is virtually a gray monotone color all over except for a prominent skull cap of black feathers on top of its head. It also has a russet colored area of feathers under its tail. If you have ever heard a catbird you will agree that it really does sound like a cat. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share similar vocal abilities. Like the Mockingbird, they copy the sounds of other species and string those sounds together, making their own song.
You’ve probably at least heard of the expression “sitting in the catbird seat”, which indicates being in an advantageous position.
By the way, it was Red Barber, the Hall of Fame radio announcer for none other than the Brooklyn Dodgers for almost 15 years back in the 1940s and 50s who helped popularize the expression “sitting in the catbird seat”, which meant “sitting pretty”; for example, when a batter had three balls and no strikes on him.
Catbirds are cautious birds, they seldom fly in open areas. As the Cornell Lab points out, “Catbirds are secretive but energetic, hopping and fluttering from branch to branch through tangles of vegetation. Singing males sit atop shrubs and small trees. Catbirds are reluctant to fly across open areas, preferring quick, low flights over vegetation.” Audubon describes it this way: “Rather plain but with lots of personality, the Gray Catbird often hides in the shrubbery, making an odd variety of musical and harsh sounds — including the catlike mewing responsible for its name. At other times it moves about boldly in the open, jerking its long tail expressively. Most catbirds winter in the southern United States or the tropics, but a few linger far to the north if they have access to a reliable source of berries or a well-stocked bird feeder.”
Catbirds are apparently very smart. We’ve written about the strategy of the Cowbird laying eggs in the nests of other birds and how one gull fails to recognize the different egg. Well, not so for the Catbird. She will recognize the intruding egg, puncture it and get rid of it. The Catbird nest, resembling a cup and usually built by the female, is comprised of any number of things, like “twigs, weeds, grass, leaves, and sometimes pieces of trash, lined with rootlets and other fine materials.”
And some good news for bird lovers: According to Audubon the overall Catbird population, at least in the East, is apparently on the rise.
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