Dateline: March 8, 2013*
Outdoor Cats are always a hot button issue. So, when is an appropriate time to allow a mewing resident in the garden? Well, when it is a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), of course!
These charcoal-colored birds with the darker Mohawk stripe on their head will draw your attention with their call. Like mockingbirds they have a repertoire of sounds one of which sounds a little like a cat meowing. They are distantly related to the mockingbird.
Here in Florida they are non-breeding winter residents. I guess that they like it really warm and must stay further south, so central Florida is merely a migration area, based on my observations.
While I lived in New York, they frequently visited and I was under the assumption that they were called catbirds because when my kitty and I were out for our daily trot around the property they would dive-bomb her, showing no fear. My take was the common name indicated catbird because they attacked cats and the gray, well, just look at the photo for that reasoning. So much for what I know, it seems it was the call after all.
I heard that familiar call the other day. Too fast for a photo op, but I looked up from last year and found they flew through in February, so they are just about on target time-wise as last year. A second encounter took place just yesterday with two catbirds flying low to the ground when I walked down the drive. They have a little red and white markings showing under that rump as they flit by. Hopefully they will stay just a bit longer so I can enjoy their presence. Ahh, these snowbirds, only fleeting joy for some of us.
They breed in most of the eastern third of the United States, except for the Deep South. They like dense shrubs for cover and nesting. They eat insects and fruit and at this time of year seem particularly drawn to my wax myrtles. They can be damaging to “cash crops”, so if you grow your own strawberries, raspberries and the like, you might want to put a net over them…the berries, not the birds…although that might work 😉 Since they seem to favor serviceberry, maybe try planting that as a distraction from your personal edibles. Other possibilities include the usual berry producers, elderberry, holly and the like.
All in all it is pleasant to hear them and they are rather attractive, so plan your garden to encourage catbirds and you just might see the population grow.
*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 8, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.