Sitting in the Catbird Seat …

May 29th, 2011 § 2 comments

Sitting in the Catbird Seat: My Resident Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

There’s a broken branch in my doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’). The leafless eyesore is driving me crazy —this otherwise beautiful shrub sits right outside my kitchen window— but I’m not going to prune it. No, I won’t touch it, because it doesn’t belong to me. That tall, naked bit of wood sticking up straight from the center of  all those lovely flower buds has become the perch of my resident crooner, Mr. Catbird. Birds are a beautiful and important part of my garden, and this musical little fellow sings —an endlessly varied and clever repertoire— from dawn to dusk. I wouldn’t dream of disturbing his stage.

Are you familiar with the Gray Catbird and his family? The species is common throughout much of the United States and Southern Canada during the nesting season. The catbird takes its name from his call; a distinctive, raspy-sounding “mew”. His song, on the other hand, is quite creative; like that of his cousin, the Northern Mockingbird, which has a similar stylistic habit of sampling bits of other bird tunes in his compositions. But the gray catbird looks noticeably different from the mockingbird —smaller and darker with a deep gray color, black cap and no white markings— and if you look closely you’ll notice a flash of rusty red feathers beneath its tail as he flits between low branches.

If you enjoy listening to catbirds, draw them into your garden by planting fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. In addition to a wide range of insect pests, the catbird and his cousin mockingbird are particularly fond of  fruiting Viburnum, Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and Dogwood (Cornus sericea, C. alba, C. alternifolia, C. florida and C. kousa). But beware, they will also sample your blueberries, raspberries and strawberries (I cover mine with old fashioned tobacco cloth). Catbirds avoid flight over wide open spaces —preferring to hop from one low shrub or tree to the next— and they typically nest in thickets 4′ or so off the ground. I like to keep my garden neatly pruned and tidy —leaving the catbird’s branch is a test of my nature— but remember, a little imperfection in a garden is often exactly what it takes to make it the perfect place for our wild friends.

Listen to the songs and calls of the gray catbird by clicking here —Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds”— where you can research almost anything you ever wanted to know about our avian friends.

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§ 2 Responses to Sitting in the Catbird Seat …"

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Hi Michaela, Thanks for the great shot of your little buddy. I hear them fairly often, but rarely get a chance to see them. (Always loved the sound they make. Even now it makes me smile to mimic their saucy inquiry.)

  • Michaela says:

    @ Deb – Isn’t he great? He’s singing out there on his stick right now. So funny that he chose that spot. I may be imagining things (who me?) but I think he’s looking through the window, into the kitchen right now! I love it when he mews at my fat, old cat. It’s like he’s laughing at her while she watches him through the glass. :) xo

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