The gray catbird is an inconspicuous, elegant bird with many characteristics that make it unique.
It is medium sized, with a length of 8-9” or 20-23 cm (“Gray Catbird” 2017). Its body is slate gray with a chestnut flank, which is the part of the bird under the tail (“Gray Catbird” 2017). The gray catbird’s rounded wings have sheer contour feathers that, under close examination, are found to be slightly darker than the body, but this detail is rarely noticed from a distance. The lower part of the head and the neck are similar in color to the body, and the top of the head is dark, often described as a black cap (“Gray Catbird”). Like its closest relative, the northern mockingbird, the gray catbird has black eyes (“Gray Catbird”). It also has a black beak that is short and thin, which makes it useful for picking insects and berries (“Adaptations”). The tail is long and rounded, and it is dark gray (“Gray Catbird”). It is evenly colored except for the reddish down feathers seen on the flank. Its legs are relatively long and spindly (“Gray Catbird”).
- Diet - The gray catbird eats mostly insects, such as beetles, ants, caterpillars, moths, flies, and spiders (“Gray Catbird” 2017). It also eats a variety of berries, like holly berries, elderberries, cherries, and blackberries (“Gray Catbird”). Sometimes, it eats vegetables, catches small fish, or eats leftovers from human meals, like doughnut crumbs (“Gray Catbird” 2017).
- Beak shape - The gray catbird has a short, thin beak that helps the bird pick insects and berries off of leaves (“Adaptations”). The beak also allows the bird to flip leaves on the ground as it searches for food in the grass (“Gray Catbird”).
- Mimicry and mating - The gray catbird mimics many species of birds and even other animals like frogs (“An Expert Mimic”). It is great at remembering the many sounds that it hears as it flies (“An Expert Mimic”). During breeding season, males sing every sound they remember (“An Expert Mimic”). The female catbirds usually breed with the male that can sing the most sounds, that therefore traveled the most (“An Expert Mimic”).
- Feet - Songbirds like the gray catbird have very few nerves and blood vessels in their small, featherless legs (“Adaptations”). This allows birds to land on any surface of almost any temperature, hot or cold (“Adaptations”). Also, their feet have four toes - three in the front and one in the back - which is ideal for perching on branches (“Adaptations”).
- Communication - Once a male catbird mates with a female gray catbird, they will stay together to watch over the eggs (Pinkoski and Dewey). While the female incubates the eggs, the male watches over the territory by singing specific calls that warn other birds (“Gray Catbird”).
- Body motion - Gray catbirds fluff up their breast feathers in two cases. They may fluff their feathers if there is a conflict between two birds, during a competition for a mate for instance (“Gray Catbird”). Or, they also fluff their breast when their chicks hatch - since they are altricial, or helpless, both parents spread their wings and fluff up their breast to provide shade (Pinkoski and Dewey).
From leaving the nest to migrating and mating, a gray catbird’s life is full of challenges and risks.
7. Adult life - A gray catbird raises two broods per season (Pinkoski and Dewey). When it is older and more experienced, it faces less obstacles, but many are still present. For example, the gray catbird’s territory could be invaded by the parasitic brown-headed cowbird, that lays eggs in the nests of other birds and whose hatchlings harm the offspring of the host (“Gray Catbird” 2017). However, many gray catbirds are successful in reproducing and caring for their offspring and the oldest reported gray catbird lived for 17 years and 11 months (“Gray Catbird”)!
if you are acquainted with the song of the birds he so sweetly imitates, you are sure to recognise the manner of the different species.
- James Audubon, ("Plate 128 Cat Bird")
It even possesses a humanity, or rather a generosity and gentleness, worthy of beings more elevated in the scale of nature.
- James Audubon, ("Plate 128 Cat Bird")