I suppose the catbird holds a sentimental attachment for me since it was my mother’s favorite bird, and it was from her that I gained my appreciation of nature in general and birds in particular.
The gray catbird is one of three birds found in the Atlanta area that is a member of the Mimidae family. This group is named for the fact that they mimic the songs of other birds or even noises. The other two in our area are the northern mockingbird and the brown thrasher. All three birds prefer brushy habitats, thickets and wood margins and are frequently seen in residential areas.
Of the three, the catbird is less likely to be a permanent resident of the Atlanta area, tending to migrate to warmer climates for the winter. I can count on seeing a pair of catbirds back at my feeder by late April to early May.
The catbird is a bit smaller in size than the more common mockingbird, but has a similar slender silhouette and long tail. Like the mockingbird, the catbird is a mimic, though to a somewhat lesser extent.
However, it is best known for its cat-like call which, though not imitative, is very distinctive and is reminiscent of a cat’s plaintive mewing. Both sexes are similar in appearance with plain, solid, dark gray plumage, a rusty-red patch under the tail and a black cap on the head.
The gray catbird is an insect and berry eater, and I was happy to learn that Japanese beetles are one of its favorite foods. It is fond of the fruits of dogwood, winterberry, yaupon holly, crabapple, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, mountain ash, sassafras and serviceberry.
At my feeder, it is attracted to a mix of peanut butter, cornmeal and lard, a favorite of many backyard birds.
The catbirds are regulars at my feeder throughout the summer, and from their regularity, I have to assume they nest in the yard or very close by. Though I have never seen their nest, my research indicates it is usually built in shrubbery or hedges, and I was interested to learn that the genus name, Dumetella, is Latin for “little thicket,” in reference to the catbird’s preferred habitat.
The nest is usually built 3 to 10 feet off the ground and is constructed of sticks, stems, grasses, leaves, pine needles and similar natural material. Two to six glossy blue-green eggs are laid during the months of May through August, and often two broods are raised in one season.
The catbirds are dear to my heart, and I enjoy their presence from their arrival in spring through August. Then they seem to suddenly disappear in September. That leaves me waiting for this not-so-colorful, but still delightful, harbinger of spring to return again next year.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.