Wildlife in Your Backyard: Attracting Grey Catbirds

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Grey Female Catbird on nest, with eggs visible

A grey female catbird defending her nest

The Grey Catbird is a song bird that lives in much of North America, from Canada to Mexico. The Grey Catbird is a shy bird, and prefers to live in thick hedges where it can remain unseen, although Grey Catbirds will pop out from the hedge if you walk by, to see what is going on. If a Grey Catbird perceives that you are not threatening, it may come out to socialize with you.

Grey Catbirds are most famous for their songs. They belong to the mockingbird family and will imitate the songs, not only of many other kinds of birds, but are also famous for imitating the meowing of cats. Some scientists think that by learning to imitate cats, Grey Catbirds have learned to make themselves safer from other predators, as cats are predators of many different kinds of animals, from birds to rodents to snakes. Grey Catbirds have been known to remember up to one hundred seventy different phrases of songs, which usually, unlike other mockingbird species, are not repeated before moving on to the next phrase. Like many mockingbird species, they can be fairly aggressive towards predators, driving them off by mobbing them.

Grey Catbirds need thick, evergreen hedges to roost and nest in. They eat insects that live in leaf litter and berries, and are particularly fond of figs and mulberries, although they will eat almost any kind of berries. To avoid having your strawberries, blueberries, and other berries ravaged, it is best to plant other kinds of berries to attract them: European mountain ash, pyracantha, cotoneaster, dogwood, mistletoe, hawthorn, California peppertree,  privet, yew, toyon, hackberry and choke cherry.

Grey Catbirds mate at the beginning of the season, and the nest typically contains two or three dark blue or blug-green eggs, although nests with up to five eggs have been found. After the eggs hatch, the fledglings will usually leave the nest within ten days to two weeks. The thick hedges will greatly help the young to survive.

By providing a suitable habitat, you can attract these desirable song birds to your back yard, and enjoy them most of the year, and keep them coming back, year after year. Their songs are among the most complex of any bird because of their ability to imitate almost anything, and their shy but curious nature will have you laughing at their habits.

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