Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Ben Bailey

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the gray catbird.

Named for its cat-like “mew” calls made while hiding deep within a shrub, the gray catbird also performs amazing songs. It belongs to the family of birds known as mimics, who copy the songs of other species. The catbird weaves parts of these songs and other sounds in its habitat into its own song. It often sings from a high perch a song that can last up to 10 minutes. These complex songs are believed to tell a potential mate that this is a bird whose been around and is a great catch.

These are birds of dense, tangled thicket, often around water. With the exception of southwestern extremes, they breed across much of the U.S. and into southern Canada. A recent trip to the Riverwalk in town revealed catbirds delivering food to a nest hidden deep within a shrub. In winter, they migrate to southern states, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Gray catbirds are medium-sized, gray birds with dark caps. Their long tails, cinnamon-colored underneath, are held down when perched, giving them a hunch-backed look in profile. They forage on the ground for insects, larvae and spiders, adding fruits and berries to their diet when available.

Gray catbirds have adapted to live in suburban environments where, according to a Smithsonian study, domestic cats destroy nearly half of all fledglings. The American Bird Conservancy reports that every year in the United States, cats kill more than 1 billion birds. They urge us to keep our cats indoors for their safety and for the safety of birds.

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