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Brooklyn Bird Watch: July 5

Gray Catbird. Scientific Name: Dumetella carolinensis.

July 5, 2022 By Joseph Palmer
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Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features a Heather Wolf photo of the Gray Catbird seen in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Gray Catbird is considered to be one of the three greatest mimics across North America. The other two great mimics are the well known Northern Mockingbird, and the Brown Thrasher.

As its name says, the Gray Catbird is primarily a monotone slate gray color with a small black cap and a reddish chestnut patch under its tail. The Catbird and the Mockingbird have similar physical characteristics and the Mockingbird is still sometimes called the “slate colored Catbird.”  The reason the Catbird has its name is because of its most familiar call, which sounds a lot like a cat’s “meow”.  According to Cornell, there are several unrelated groups of songbirds called catbirds because their calls also resemble a cat’s meow, and their scientific name “Ailuroedus” is from a Greek word meaning “cat-singer” or “cat-voiced”.

Whereas the Northern Mockingbird seems nervous and always cautious and alert, the Gray Catbird can be downright aggressive.  For example, on seeing a possible enemy catbirds will screech and swoop down in attack mode, harassing household pets without mercy. And while the Northern Mockingbird likes to be visible when singing somewhere along its territory, the Gray Catbird prefers to hide in the shrubbery and make cat sounds to warn off predators and other birds.

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Wikipedia explains other differences between the songsters of the Mimidae family: “A gray catbird’s song is easily distinguished from that of the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) or Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) because the mockingbird repeats its phrases or “strophes” three to four times, the thrasher usually twice, but the catbird sings most phrases only once. The catbird’s song is usually described as more raspy and less musical than that of a mockingbird.

Here is something interesting from the original AUK ornithology magazine from October, 1912, when an ornithologist discovered, apparently for the first time, the uniquely skillful mimicry of the Catbird.


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