My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Grey Catbird

This is one of my favorite species of birds. This seemingly dull grey bird is really anything but dull, what it lacks in color it makes up for in its song. That’s why I love the catbird as much as I do. Catbirds are most often heard rather than seen, and even when many people hear it, they aren’t able to identify it. While I have been doing this blog, I have mentioned several times how much enjoyment I get while fly-fishing and listening to a catbird singing in the brush along the river as I fish.

Most songbirds sing “pop tunes”, they sing the same short song over and over, as passed down through the generations. Not the grey catbird, they sit hidden in the brush and compose “symphonies” as they go, using bits and pieces of other bird’s songs, add their own vocalizations,  weaving them altogether as they sing for hours.

Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia about catbirds:

This species is named for its cat-like call. Like many members of the Mimidae (most famously mockingbirds), it also mimics the songs of other birds, as well as those of Hylidae (tree frogs), and even mechanical sounds. Because of its well-developed songbird syrinx, it is able to make two sounds at the same time. The alarm call resembles the quiet calls of a male mallard.

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” 3 to 4 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.

In contrast to the many songbirds that choose a prominent perch from which to sing, the catbird often elects to sing from inside a bush or small tree, where it is obscured from view by the foliage.

That last paragraph can be taken as a clue as to how difficult it can be to get a good photo of a catbird, they are shy birds that prefer to remain hidden from view. I find that most of the time, I have to “go in after them”, that is, get right into the thick brush that is their preferred habitat. That often means that they are seen in deep shade, making photographing them even more difficult.

Enough excuses, here’s a few photos, since I went on at length about the catbird’s singing, it is only fitting that I begin with a photo of one in song.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Juvenile Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

I see you!

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

From the inside looking out.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

And to wrap this up (for now) a shot of a curious catbird poking its head out of the leaves to see who was silly enough to enter its tangled world.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

This is number two in my photo life list, only 348 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. Northern Narratives

    We have a pair that nests in our brush. They are definitely shy birds.

    January 19, 2013 at 10:19 am

    • Yes, they are, I would love to have a pair nesting close by just for the songs I would hear.

      January 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm

  2. I don’t know if I’ve heard a catbird but we had a mockingbird that stayed one whole summer and made the world a different place. It was amazing!

    January 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    • Thank you! That was a great way of saying it, “made the world a different place”, I think that statement applies to the songs of all birds, even the simple “pop tunes” most birds sing.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:23 am