Catbird - The Family in My Yard
“Wherever there are birds, there is hope.” ― Mehmet Murat ildan
The gray catbird is a relative to the mockingbird. No one had to tell me though. We've had catbirds visiting our backyard for several years. They roosted in our cedar trees and sang from there. Interestingly, they repeat the sounds of other birds much like the mockingbird. How do you know the difference? Well, the mockingbird repeats its phrases 3 to 4 times, but the catbird sings most phrases only once. As it sings you think there are four or five different birds in the tree but there is only the catbird.
Catbirds can be found just about anywhere in North America east of the Rockies. They do migrate south in the winter going from the US to Mexico, to Central America and then to the Caribbean in the winter. They actually start leaving in September or October before the weather gets too cold. That sounds like something I wouldn't mind doing, heading further south to follow the warm weather.
They say the catbirds cry resembles a cat's mew but I have yet to notice that. An interesting fact about catbirds is that they are monogamous and mate for the season. They have also been known to have two nests in one season.
Catbird in an Evergreen Tree and Male Catbird
Each year for the past three or four years we have had cardinals build a nest in our rose bush. This year however, the cardinals didn't show up. Seemingly as if on cue, the catbird decided to build it's nest there instead. They are known to nest in dense thickets and I can tell you my rose bush is super dense. Not only is it dense but the thorns per square inch are unbelievable. What better place to hide your nest?
Although the female is the primary nest builder, the male will often help. It takes about five to six days to build the nest which is usually about four feet off the ground. You would think they'd build it higher, but no, that is their norm, possibly because they are ground feeders and eat ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, and moths. They will also eat holly berries, cherries, elderberries, poison ivy, greenbrier, bay, and blackberries when available. Hmm, anyone with a poison ivy problem might want to attract some catbirds.
So, my catbirds started building their nest. As I mentioned, we couldn't tell which was the male and which was the female but they were both busy getting things ready for their babies.
Catbird Gathering for the Nest
Have you ever watched a birds nest till the young hatch?
Watching Babies Grow
Apparently eggs are laid one at a time at twenty four hour intervals. I found that very interesting. For the first day or so after laying her eggs the female may leave the nest but then she sits and rarely leaves. The male feeds her while she incubates her babies. If she does leave however, Daddy bird guards the nest. While the number varies from two to five eggs, my catbird Momma had three. Unfortunately due to the density of the rose bush I couldn't get any pictures of the lovely bluish green eggs.
As the eggs begin to hatch Momma bird gives a little gentle assistance. She actually eats the shell membrane after the babies hatch and the egg shells are then carried away by Momma bird. Once all the eggs are hatched the little babies start opening their mouths looking for food.
For the first couple of days I went out each day to take a photo, sticking my arm into the middle of the bush and hoping I got a picture. The babies grew very fast. It seemed each day they had grown more over night. The last two pictures I took were after about ten days. When I went out the next morning to take another picture they were all gone.
Research led me to learn that they tend to fly away from the nest at night. Though they leave anywhere from eight to twelve days after hatching, Momma will continue to feed them for about twelve more days. Then Daddy takes over as Momma starts looking for a place for a new nest, which she will start with the same mate.
NestbuildingClick thumbnail to view full-size
"Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain." - Doug Coupland
FAQs About Catbirds
- According to Gregory Gough of The Smithsonian Institute, "...catbird has adapted well to the widespread urban and suburban habitats created by people."
- Catbirds breed between April and early August.
- They mate the first year after they are hatched.
- Parents shade the young from the sun by opening their wings over them.
- The oldest reported catbird was ten years eleven months.
- Catbirds communicate visually.
- Known predators include snakes, rats, foxes, chipmunks, cats, racoons and blue jays.
So my catbirds are now gone. Actually even Momma and Dad bird seem to be gone. I do hear one now and again but I haven't seen any lately. I know they will not reuse the same nest so perhaps they've flown off to another rose bush somewhere. Maybe they'll be back next year though opinions on that are conflicting. Some say they return to the same spot year after year while others say they never return to the same spot.
Though they aren't very colorful, their gray feathers are pretty to look at and their little black cap just tops it off. Their songs and imitations are a cheer to the ear! Would you like to attract catbirds to your yard? You can with some dense bushes or shrubs including holly, dogwood, and from my experience cedar trees and thick rose bushes. Catbirds don't eat seeds but you can attract them to feeders by putting fruit in the feeders, things like halved oranges, raisins, fruit-flavored suet and peanut butter. Like most other birds they love to bathe so a bird bath is a definite plus.
Knowing they are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act leads us to believe they will be around for a long time to come.
Hope you've enjoyed my little adventure with the catbirds. I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment.
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