Got Japanese Beetles? You Need Catbirds!

Japanese Beetle--aka Catbird Popcorn!

Voracious pests that prey on roses to raspberries and everything in between!
Voracious pests that prey on roses to raspberries and everything in between! | Source
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Here is our target pest of the day! Japanese beetles have voracious appetites, and zero in on flowers, fruits and veggies. I have found that the traps only serve to call more of these beetles to my gardens because of the pheromone they use. It's a powerful lure, but if the beetles don't find the trap right away, they're sure to find a mate in the meantime, and then your troubles are personified!

I am totally against using toxic chemicals for pests of any kind. They poison not only the pest but the animal that eats them as well as our environment and water supply. I much prefer to advocate natural controls.

Birds are our first line of defense because they are experts at finding and devouring tons of bugs.

Their babies need the protein to grow strong and fast. Some birds like certain insects better than others. That's why it is so important to attract as many different birds to your yard and gardens as possible.

Catbirds know just how to forage for the Japanese beetle grubs as well as the adults that plague our gardens.

Did You Know?

Catbirds are particularly long-lived birds. The oldest recorded was 15 years, but the average is about 10 to 12. That's a long time in bird years!

Maybe mimicry has its advantages--imitating a cat might scare off predators! Being shy and staying well-hidden must be a contributing factor as well.

  • What Does a Catbird Look Like?
  • What Does it Sound Like?
  • Catbird Nest and Eggs
  • Favorite Natural Food Sources
  • Preferred Natural Habitat
  • Tips for Creating Gray Catbird Habitat in Your Backyard
  • Migration of Catbird

Identify Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird | Source

Our Hero!

A jaunty black top piece adorns the head, and a chestnut or rusty patch appears just under the tail of this otherwise all-gray 8-1/2” almost-robin-size bird. Males and females look just alike. Latin name Dumetella Carolinensis.

By the way, dumetella means thicket, which is their preferred habitat.

The catbird is a member of the Mimidae family of birds. These are the happy mimics of the bird world, and include mockingbirds, brown thrashers and starlings.

They feel most at home among wild berry brambles and tangles, and dense hedgerows with nearby water sources.

Catbird Meowing and Singing Its Own Song

Catbird Voice

Secretive and shy, it is more than likely you will hear little mewing sounds before you see a catbird. If you want to lure it into view, make some mewing sounds of your own. Its curiosity may bring it out into the open to investigate!

A catbird will mimic another bird by copying its song just once, then it will put its own spin on the melody. They don't constantly repeat songs like mockingbirds do.

Did You Know?

If a cowbird lays eggs in a catbird nest, 95% of the time the female catbird will eject the eggs. If not, she will build a new nest right on top of the old one, sadly at the expense of her own unhatched eggs.

Catbird Nest & Eggs

Source

Catbird Nest and Eggs

Catbirds prefer to build their cup-like nests deep within dense shrubs about 4 to 5 feet off the ground.

Curiously, both the male and female catbirds will build several nests, which they leave unused. Then the female will build the final nest in which she lays and incubates her 4 to 6 blue-green eggs. Sometimes the eggs will have reddish markings.

The male stands guard close by to keep her and the nest safe from predators. Males make a lot of noise if a critter should venture too near the nest!

Their babies will hatch in about 2 weeks. Now begins the never ending task of feeding the young. Both parents will have to work hard all day long looking for nutritious protein-rich insects to supply their growing brood. In about 10 days Mom and Pop will coax their fledglings into the sky for their first flying lessons.

Grasshopper and its damage.
Grasshopper and its damage. | Source
Wild Huckleberries
Wild Huckleberries | Source

Preferred Food Sources of Gray Catbird

One of its most favorite food groups is insects.

While on patrol in your yard this voracious insect-eating machine will help to debug your flowers, veggie gardens, trees and shrubbery.

Japanese beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, ants, termites, stinkbugs, and a host of other destructive plant pests and their larvae make up the catbirds insect diet.

Wild fruit is another staple of the catbird's diet and will include:

wild grapes, mountain ash berries, huckleberries, inkberries, serviceberries, mulberry bushes, choke cherry, coral honeysuckle, wild cherries and raspberries among others.

Low-growing bushes such as cotoneasters and holly not only provide food, but hiding places and shelter while the catbird is foraging. Wild strawberry patches will serve to entice this and many other fruit-eating birds as well.

Catbirds like to make quick, short flights to visit nearby vegetation. They dislike flying across wide expanses.


Did You Know?

Catbirds really enjoy poison ivy berries! And no, they don't get the 'itchies' from them!

Natural Habitat of Gray Catbird

If there is a stream or brook around, chances are the catbird will be there as well; particularly if there are dense bushes growing by the water. Old abandoned farms with overgrown bushes are also favored habitats, if there is a pond or other water source nearby. Both areas harbor loads of insects and wild fruiting plants; a catbird's heaven on earth!

Catbirds Love To Bathe!
Catbirds Love To Bathe! | Source

Let's Make a Catbird Habitat in Our Own Yard

  • Plant a Blended, Layered Edge Area
  • Add a Brush pile to your property
  • Place a bird bath near your shrubs or hedgerow
  • Provide a tray feeder at ground level stocked with the favorites
  • Make a sand bed

Find Out How to Create an Edge Habitat

Read My Article About Edge Habitats for more information.

Hedgerow and Fruit Trees

If you don't already have shrubs in your yard, consider some fruit-bearing plants like holly or coral honeysuckle bushes. Dense plantings provide cover and foraging opportunities for lots of different birds.

Dwarf fruit trees like cherry and apple will attract the likes of catbirds and cedar waxwings. Plant a grape arbor or grapevine covered fence to really seal the deal!

Strawberry patches and low-growing fruiting plants act like magnets for a variety of otherwise 'hard-to-attract' shy birds like catbirds.

Brush Pile holds all kinds of goodies for birds.
Brush Pile holds all kinds of goodies for birds. | Source

Brush Pile

When you rake leaves, gather fallen tree limbs or trim your shrubbery, consider making a neat pile for the birds. This treasure trove harbors insects and places to shelter from storms, as well as lots of nest building materials.

Place water source near shrubs for the safety of your birds.
Place water source near shrubs for the safety of your birds. | Source

Bird Bath

If you want to make your birds very happy, a bird bath is essential. Locate your bird bath or water feature close to shrubs. That way the birds have a quick get-away from any would-be predators. The nearby branches provide perches on which to preen their feathers and dry off.

Catbirds absolutely love the water. They will bathe many times in a day, and will appreciate a clean and reliable water source.

Pole Mounted Mealworm Feeder.
Pole Mounted Mealworm Feeder. | Source

Tray Feeder

Catbirds are ground foragers and prefer to eat in the late day, when most other birds have gone home for the night. They will enjoy a tray feeder placed on or close to ground level near the shrubby area where they live.* To entice them add raisins, currants, gray-striped sunflower seeds, peanut chips and chopped apples to the tray.

*NOTE: When using a tray feeder on the ground, make sure there are no neighborhood cats around. Do not leave it out overnight as it will be a favorite of raccoons, opposums and other foraging mammals.

A mealworm feeder filled with mealworms mounted on a pole is irresistible to catbirds and bluebirds, as well as many other insect-loving birds.

Sand Bed

Taking a dust bath is a fun thing for a lot of birds. It helps rid their feathers of tiny annoying critters and helps distribute the natural oils in their feathers. Just dig down about 3 inches below ground level in an area about 2' x 2', or whatever size area you have to work with. Fill with a layer of fine sand and watch the fun!

Again, if there are neighborhood cats or other predatory mammals around your yard, don't bother with a sand bed. You don't want to risk putting your birds in harm's way!

Did You Know?

The Gray Catbird lives year round in the eastern coastal regions of North America.

Migration of Catbirds

In September flying at night, they deftly navigate their way from their breeding grounds back to warmer climates like Florida, Texas and South America. Because baby birds do not do well in tropical heat, in May the gray catbirds make the trip back again to mate and raise their young in the cooler spring climate.

Catbird Singing.
Catbird Singing. | Source

Adding any or all of the above to your yard will provide a wonderful habitat for many kinds of different birds, especially the Japanese-beetle-eating Catbird! Your yard will be filled with lots of bird song and beauty. This is a project that you can do a little at a time or all at once. Either way, you'll be making a difference for our feathered friends, and that's a very good thing!

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Do You Have Catbirds Nearby? 2 comments

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Awesome and up. I didn't know that the Catbird liked Japanese Beetles. You did a superb job on this piece.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Thank you so much , Deb! Your support and encouragement keeps me going for sure! I was fortunate to have a catbird nest in one of my shrubs a couple of years ago. At the time I was struggling with a Japanese beetle infestation, primarily because of all the wild raspberries that I love to keep for my birds. The catbirds made quick work of not only the beetles, but also the grasshoppers! Thank you for your votes and your great comments!

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