Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis

If you’re convinced you’ll never be able to learn bird calls, start with the Gray Catbird. Once you’ve heard its catty mew you won’t forget it. Follow the sound into thickets and vine tangles and you’ll be rewarded by a somber gray bird with a black cap and bright rusty feathers under the tail. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Gray Catbird’s long song may last for up to 10 minutes.
  • The male Gray Catbird uses his loud song to proclaim his territory. He uses a softer version of the song when near the nest or when a bird intrudes on his territory. The female may sing the quiet song back to the male.
  • The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.
  • The oldest known Gray Catbird lived to be 17 years 11 months old.
  •  A group of catbirds are collectively known as a "mewing" and a "seat" of catbirds.
    Gray Catbirds are able to recognize their own eggs making them less susceptible to brood parasites such as the Brown-headed Cowbird.
  • Their calls include the catlike meow call that gives them their name.
  • When feeding on the ground, they toss leaves aside with their bills rather than scratching with their feet.


Size & Shape

A medium-sized, slender songbird with a long, rounded, black tail and a narrow, straight bill. Catbirds are fairly long legged and have broad, rounded wings.

Color Pattern

Catbirds give the impression of being entirely slaty gray. With a closer look you’ll see a small black cap, blackish tail, and a rich rufous-brown patch under the tail.

Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Mimidae
Genus: Dumetella
Species: Dumetella carolinensis
The most common call is a raspy mew that sounds like a cat. Catbirds also make a loud, chattering chek-chek-chek and a quiet quirt.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 22-23 cm (8.5-9 in)
  • Weight: 37 g (1.3 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Gray
  • Underparts: Pale Gray
  • Upperparts: Gray
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Dark brown to maroon brown.
  • Head Pattern: Capped, Plain
  • Crown Color: Black
  • Forehead Color: Black
  • Nape Color: Gray
  • Throat Color: Gray
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Swift flight on series of rapidly beating wings., Alternates several rapid wing beats with wings pulled to sides.
  • Wingspan Range: 28-30 cm (11-12 in)
  • Wing Shape: Pointed-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Black
  • Under Tail: Red-brown coverts.
  • Leg Color: Gray-black
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge, Bushes, shrubs, and thickets
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Dark blue green
  • Number of Eggs: 2 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Lined with fine material, Grasses, Twigs
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Naked, eyes closed, helpless and partially covered with dark brown or gray down.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Mímido gris (Spanish)
  • Monqueur chat (French)
  • The Gray Catbird lacks white on its wings and tail and is smaller and darker gray than the Northern Mockingbird.
  • The Townsend's Solitaire of the West is more gray-brown, with a pale eyering and no black cap or rufous under the tail. It acts very differently from a catbird, sitting on high, exposed perches.
  • Catbirds are much grayer, with a black cap, long tail, and thinner bill than either female Brown-headed Cowbirds or female Brewer's Blackbirds.
  • Female Phainopeplas, of the Southwest, are similarly shaped but have a crest, a red eye, and white edges to the wing feathers. Phainopeplas tend to sit very straight up, whereas catbirds crouch over.

Conservation Status

Common in most areas, but there have been recent declines in the southeastern U.S. Catbirds tend to winter near the coast, making development of coastal habitat a possible concern for the future. Along parts of the Gulf Coast in winter, many catbirds are killed by cars as they fly across roads.





Sources used to Construct this Page:

Gray Catbirds live amid dense shrubs, vine tangles, and thickets of young trees in both summer and winter. Human disturbance and development often create these habitats in the form of clearings, roadsides, fencerows, abandoned farmland, and residential areas. On tropical wintering grounds catbirds spend more time in forests than they do while in North America.
  • Cimprich, David A. and Frank R. Moore. 1995. Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;
  • Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
  • Patuxent Wildlife Research Center longevity records
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A Knopf, New York.
In summer, Gray Catbirds eat mainly ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, and moths. When fruits are available they also eat holly berries, cherries, elderberries, poison ivy, greenbrier, bay, and blackberries. They are sometimes garden pests, eating or damaging raspberries, cherries, grapes, and strawberries.
You’ll find catbirds hopping through low vegetation or flying short distances at a time, just above the surrounding vegetation. Male catbirds are territorial during spring and summer, singing from prominent perches and chasing away intruders including several other species of birds. Males and females defend their own territories during winter, a time when territoriality is uncommon in many species. In altercations, Gray Catbirds may fluff up the breast and rump feathers, spread their tail, and open their bill toward the sky. Gray Catbirds sometimes destroy eggs and nestlings of woodland species including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Chipping Sparrow, and Song Sparrow.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar


All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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