Gray Catbird

Earth day began cloudy, damp, cool and breezy, after light rain showers overnight, and by eight in the morning, the trees around the house seemed rather quiet, except for the gentle chanting of a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was in my office working when I heard the emphatic meaah of a Gray Catbird – and found it sitting in the open, on the rail of the back deck. Slate gray all over, with its neat black cap, orange under the tail, it called several times, then flew up to a shepherd’s crook that holds a hanging geranium plant, sat there for about a minute, then flew away into the trees.

Gray Catbirds always seem to me to have a particular mystique, partly because of their sleek and shadowy plumage, and partly because they stay most often hidden in dense foliage. But I also like them because they bring back memories of seeing them many times in different places, habitats and circumstances. Though they mimic the songs of other birds, as Mockingbirds and Thrashers do, I think their cat-like call is more characteristic – and their behavior might fairly be described as feline, in some ways. They seem self-absorbed, secretive, often aloof, and move stealthily. But they can be very animated, and in unguarded moments almost playful.

Several years ago, a pair of Gray Catbirds returned in the spring to an unusually thick stand of abelia bushes outside the office where I worked in the house we lived in then. The Catbirds announced their arrival one morning with sharp, repeated meaah calls, and flitted from branch to branch in the abelias, switching their tails and creating their own homecoming fanfare that went on for most of that day. They nested in these abelia bushes for several years – I don’t know if it was the same birds or the same pair, but it seemed to be a favorite spot, with a creek and woods not far away, and plenty of shrubs and tangled undergrowth.

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