How Did the Gray Catbird Get Its Name?

Along with food, the babies might get meowing instruction.
Along with food, the babies might get meowing instruction. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

If you've heard a gray catbird, you know how it got its name. You could mistake the call for a cat up in a tree. You can also meow back at it, possibly receiving a reply. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website says you can attract gray catbirds by making a "pish" sound when they are in the area.

Dumetella carolinensis

Related to the mockingbird, another avian mimic, the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) boasts a gray body with a black cap. Under the dark tail hides a rust-brown patch. This medium-size bird matures to about 8 inches long, with long legs and broad wings. During its summer breeding season, the gray catbird can be found east of the Rockies and into Canada. They winter in Florida, in Central America and along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Song

Although the catbird's song resembles a feline's meow, it's that of a cat with a squeaky sort of voice. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources points out that the gray catbird "does not repeat a full series of notes or phrases" like the mockingbird mimics but sings in a disjointed, improvisational fashion. It's sort of like bird jazz, making the gray catbird a very cool catbird, indeed. Along with its cat sounds, it takes on the tunes of other birds. You're most likely to hear it sing at dawn or after dusk.


Find gray catbirds in dense thickets, hedgerows, the forest edge and any overgrown areas. Gray catbirds don't like to fly out in the open. They also like wet, boggy sites with lots of vegetation. If you live in a suburban area with those features, you might find the gray catbird at your bird feeder or birdbath. Put fruit out for them or plant fruit trees to encourage visiting. They forage all over to find insects and so can fend for themselves better than certain songbirds in densely developed areas.


To protect their young from predators, gray catbirds hide their nests in their densely vegetated habitats. Mother and father care for the three to five annual hatchlings after an approximately two-week incubation period. About 10 days post-hatching from their blue-green eggs, the fledglings leave the nest. The birds' peak breeding season ranges from early spring to late summer.

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