Birds & Birding

Consider the Catbird: The Surprising Secrets of a Common Backyard Bird

June 10, 2015


July 5, 2020

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Catbirds sound, well, like cats! © Dennis Church / Flickr

Consider the gray catbird: the tropical long-distance migrant that may well be nesting in your backyard this summer.

Gray catbirds are common, so you may not pay them much attention. But look into the research, and you’ll find that this backyard bird is full of surprises. Let’s take a closer look.

As I write this, a gray catbird is singing in my backyard.

It arrived here in New Jersey several weeks ago and may already be building a nest with its mate somewhere in the neighborhood.

I am wondering where my catbird spent its winter – and whether this is the very same catbird that was in my yard last summer. Research on catbirds can help answer these questions.

Every spring, dozens of species of migrant songbirds make their way north from the tropics to settle into nesting habitats across North America. Indeed, half of all North American birds spend their winters south of the U.S. border – from Mexico through South America.

Most of these species are habitat specialists and we might see them in our backyards only briefly during migration as they make their way to more remote places.

A Prothonotary Warbler pausing briefly during spring migration. © K Pennington/TNC Photo Contest 2019

The gray catbird, on the other hand, is a migrant from the tropics that is quite happy to claim a breeding territory in a wide variety of shrubby habitats, including suburban backyards.

The catbird singing in your backyard this spring is likely the same one that was there last year. Individual catbirds (and numerous other species) return to the same habitat patch to nest year after year, as long as they are fortunate enough to survive from one season to the next. Studies have shown a roughly 60 percent annual survival rate for catbirds.

If your backyard catbird has a lucky streak, you could see the same bird coming back for many seasons. The longevity record for a catbird is 17 years, 11 months.

This nearly 18-year-old bird was caught and banded as a young of the year in Maryland and miraculously encountered again by banders those many years later in New Jersey.

Banding can confirm the age of birds and also confirm that the bird in your backyard this year is the same one that was there last year.

Participants in programs like Neighborhood Nestwatch can observe their backyard catbirds wearing unique combinations of colored leg bands. These identify each bird as an individual and can be viewed with binoculars. For this project, researchers and participants alike can make observations on the identity and longevity of their catbirds.

Catbirds nest in 46 of the lower 48 United States and across southern Canada. They spend the winter across an equally broad area. A proportion stay in the U.S., where they primarily occupy the Gulf Coast and Florida. Some hearty individuals hang in there as far north as New Jersey.

A grey catbird calling. © Fyn Kynd / Flickr

Others go further south to the tropics – to the forests of Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.  There, they share the woods with jaguar, tapir, fer-de-lance and toucans.

Catbirds return to the same site on the wintering grounds every year as well. Your backyard catbird might spend the winter in the shadow of Mayan ruins in Guatemala or perhaps in the Florida Everglades.

The combination of USGS Bird Banding Laboratory mark-recapture data and the breeding (blue), year-round (green) and wintering (orange) distributions of gray catbirds provide a range-wide perspective of migratory connectivity.
The combination of USGS Bird Banding Laboratory mark-recapture data and the breeding (blue), year-round (green) and wintering (orange) distributions of gray catbirds provide a range-wide perspective of migratory connectivity (Ryder 2011).

We can make an educated guess on where your backyard catbirds spend the winter thanks to a recent analysis of banding records along with the use of tracking devices.

What this work tells us is that if a catbird breeds in the upper Midwest, it is more likely to be spending the winter in Central America. If it nests in the mid-Atlantic and New England, your catbird is likely spending the winter in Florida or the Caribbean.

As more studies like this one are carried out, we will have a further refined picture of “migratory connectivity” between nesting and winter sites. And we will be able to make even better guesses about where our backyard catbird might be next winter.

“A Few Raisins Give Him the Greatest Delight”             

If you want to kick things up a notch for your backyard catbirds this summer, in addition to providing water, you can also offer them fruit.

As the poet Mary Oliver observes in her poem “Catbird”: “But a few raisins give him the greatest delight.”

One of the pleasures of a birding holiday in the tropics is watching birds at fruit feeders. After hours of seeking difficult-to-see skulking birds of the undergrowth and fast-flitting birds of the high tree tops, birding respite can be found at lodges and cafes that maintain fruit feeders for birds. Dozens of species of brightly colored birds come into easy view to eat banana, papaya and citrus at close range.

Catbirds bring a bit of this culture back with them from the tropics and are among the few birds at our northern latitudes that will readily eat soaked raisins, sliced orange and even grape jelly.

Back to my well-fed catbird. Is he the same bird as last year? Without banding him, I can’t know for sure. But I do know that he will do everything within his power to return here.

Cuba’s Zapata Swamp. © Marjon Melissen / Flickr

And return from where?

Maybe it is time to combine science with imagination. The science tells me that he wintered somewhere in Florida or the Caribbean.

But for better spatial resolution, my imagination is saying the Zapata Swamp of Cuba. Listen to what he sounds like there (in the audio file) … and then listen for the catbird in your yard!

Joe Smith

Joe Smith, PhD, explores the lives of the birds around us by sharing insights from scientific research. As an ecologist for a New Jersey-based conservation services company, he helps to restore coastal ecosystems and the migratory birds that depend on them. Joe lives in the birding hotspot of Cape May, NJ and has done field research with birds throughout the U.S. and Latin America. He writes about nature in his backyard at More from Joe

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  1. I love the return of the cat bird to our coastal Maine island home. What a beautiful voice and diverse repertoire of songs. Thanks for the great article!

  2. I have really enjoyed the catbird singing in my back yard this year, mountains of western NC, but now I appreciate him much more.

  3. Yes, the catbird indeed loves fruit. I have covered my strawberry plants with netting for this very reason.

  4. Thank you! I love the Catbirds that visit me every year. Last year I called all around asking if I could participate in banding, as I have been so curious as to where they winter. I know that they are the same Catbirds as they stand beside me, especially when I sing to them.

  5. There have been Catbirds in my yard my whole life (lived in same house for 52 yrs). This year there is one that sings at 3 a.m.

    1. That’s probably a male Mockingbird that you hear at 3am. During mating season they usually sing in the middle of the night to get the attention of a mate, and mimic other bird songs like the Catbird. Both nest in similar areas too. I love to hear their songs of love at 2am!

  6. (the catbirds in my yard don’t squawk like that on your recording) they have a distinct multi sound call that reminds me of R2D2 with a mewing like a cat here and there which is delightful 🙂

    1. I agree, today it struck me today while listening that the catbird singing sounds like R2D2.
      The catbirds seem so friendly as compared to other birds – I can get within a few feet of them.
      I like to mew at them.
      I wonder if they would eat some raisins or grape jelly out of my hand.

      I live in Hagerstown, Md.

  7. This is my first year with catbirds! I hope they do return to see us in Yardley, Pa every year.

  8. Yes i have a pair of Catbirds in my backyard. They are nesting in a burning bush right outside my front window. I believe we had some last year, but have not been able to identify whether they are the same ones as last year. Love the information about them. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I have had a pair in my back yard for the last 3 years,,near Syracuse, NY

  10. Your catbird has been with me all winter I have been feeding her/him very well they love the suet I fix them with berries in it, they love the green grapes will eat the red if no seeds. They also feasted on fresh oranges, thistle and I get fruit pellets for the parrots so there is always those crumbles he loves them. They have 17 birdbaths to choose from so several can take a bath at the same time and no crowding. I expect you to take care and treasure them like I do and send them back to me in October. Thank you

    1. Phaedra, we don’t have quite that many bird baths, but we treasure them, feed them, chat with them, and give them very safe, secretive nesting spots in our yard. I love your post so much. It’s good to think of all the bird lovers taking care of them while they’re away, north or south. I will hate to see them go a little bit less this year, but I will still miss them so much.

    2. Dear Phaedra,
      I love what you wrote. I am about to record a song that features our beloved Catbirds as well as other birds. It will be used to raise money for a Wildbird rescue.
      Where are you? I take great care of “our” birds as well 🙂 They are here having a great time.


  11. I have them every year in Wescosville, PA. This Spring I saw 6 in my feeder tree at once when they returned. Either there are many more here now, or they each take numerous baths a day because almost every time I look out my windows, there is one bathing in either my birdbaths or my Koi pond. I love them!

  12. Third year in a row that we have Gray Catbirds eating Grape Jelly from our Oriole feeders here in Red Wing, Minnesota

  13. I have a catbird nest right outside my LR window eggs hatched yesterday there are 4 birds…Mother seems to be patient with us humans…This is so great to watch these babies grow..

  14. My family’s back yard in the Hyde Park section of Boston had nesting catbirds every summer, but I had not seen/heard a catbird in the Hebron, NH (Lakes Region) until this year. I have also seen/heard mockingbirds in the area in recent years. It would seem that both have extended their range northward.

    1. I have catbirds every summer – I live close to Concord NH. Not surprised you have them as well. Not sure if they are the same ones every year, but they always nest in the same deciduous shrubs in our backyard. They are so verbal and chatty, and follow me around the yard vocalizing. They love the birdbaths but I haven’t fed them. Now that I know they like fresh fruits and grape jelly they are in for a treat!

  15. I have many more each year. They love grape jelly & share with the orioles. I live in Valparaiso IN.

  16. I have never seen so many catbirds as I have this year!! I feed oranges and jelly, and need to refill the feeder at least twice a day. And they are very friendly. They wait patiently wait near my head while I refill the feeder.

  17. I have had catbirds for many yrs come to my yard in Southern New Hampshire,,, I await eagerly for their return.. and their great meow call,, I think they are the same pair as they nest in the same location every time, right next to the huge burning bush, they frequent the grape jelly we put out for the Orioles .. they seem to be a very private bird .. building their nest very low to the ground.. this year I didn’t see any babies as I usually do as they bring them to the jelly feeder … they are a beautiful gracious bird to me… I can’t wait for next yrs return as they have departed now for places unknown,,

  18. a highlight of my day, is watching my Cat Bird family at the water feature in my garden. Mostly one at a time, but every now and then Parent and child at the same time. These shy fellows… Oh what a joy to watch them “splash splash, taking a bath.”

  19. We have been seeing a pair of yellow warbler, they are beautiful. Now, I am going to have to look for the catbird

  20. Wouldn’t it be great if there were an “app” that connected a catbird’s Northern and Southern human “owners?”

  21. For the last three or four years I have had a catbird that follows me around as I mow or scoop up dog poop. Any time I scratch the bare spots in the lawn, or disturb the leaf mulch along the fence, I have to be careful I don’t step on my little shadow, as it follows me that closely. Fearless and friendly.

  22. I’ve had a bird in the nearby tree all spring and I was wondering what it was. It was a catbird!!! Then, sitting on our deck out back, a very friendly catbird perched on the fence post no more than 6′ from me, just talking up a storm for 1/2 an hour. I love his little black cap and pretty beady eyes. Truly enjoyed his visit 2 evenings in a row.

  23. We have quite a few noisy catbirds who love to splash in birdbaths similar to the robins. I start hearing and seeing them in May and usually they are gone (and missed) by August.

    1. Greetings! I FINALLY found the the answer I was looking for in this blog…”when does the migrate south”? It has taken me a few years, but now I am totally into my favorite feathered friends’ habits. The last question has finally been answered…as I sit here waiting to hear my wake-up call/cat call…. There is silence… No sound.. they left and it is August 14… I will pray for their safety and look forward to cutting up tiny Apple bites and raisins… (Btw…the catbird, Robin, Cardinals, sparrows ALL loved that treat). Moreso at the beginning of spring and while they were feeding their young.

      1. Your post brought tears to my eyes..Mine have been coming to my home for 30 years and every August they leave me sad and lonely. Thank you my friend

  24. I have catbirds nesting in a burning bush outside my window:) they are enjoying the oranges:)

  25. Myself remembers the catbird verra well, but now tha’ my hame ist in Memphis, TN myself listens tae an’ watches the mock’en bird.

  26. I love to watch the catbirds in my yard. The are very inquisitive. They follow me around my yard when I work. One time I was sitting at my outside table, the catbird sat on the edge of the bird bath just watching me for several minutes. They also love the bird bath! Sometimes I put half apples on the patio and watch them gobble it up until there was nothing left but the skin. I look forward to them coming back each spring.

  27. Spring hasn’t arrived for me until I see and hear the catbirds in our yard. We’ve lived in this house for fifty years and they come every year. I think they were on the property many years before we were. I’m so happy to learn how long they can live.

  28. well this explains Ed, I have dozens of cat birds as well as so many other species but Ed is a special cat bird he is a creature of habit and I can tell you what he is going to do. I sit on my front porch with my two Bichon’s, I have my coffee while they eat their breakfast and here comes Ed he does two fly overs under my covered porch from one end to the other and then lands on the rail in front of us and just starts singing and chirping, he stays there until we go in. I know it’s Ed because he has done it for three years now. Thanks for the tip on the raisins now I can reward him for his concerts. I just love birds.

  29. Coming originally from Europe I was not familiar with the Catbird – it has definetely become one of my very favorite songbirds. And they do come to my Oriole feeders and will eat the oranges as well as the grape jelly. So glad to hear that my backyard songster who has been serenading me for many years now is probably the same bird

  30. I just started a group on Facebook called Catbird Lovers! I haven’t added anything yet but please join so we can share more stories with each other. Mew!

  31. A robin started building a nest in our garage (!) 10 days ago on top of the garage door opener mechanism. Typical looking start for a robins nest. Two days later we had a very atypical completed nest with a catbird sitting in it–robin base, catbird crown! Catbird had eminent domain for 2 days and was then usurped by the robin. A lot of chasing and pursuing is going on in the yard. No eggs in the nest yet. I must add that we have a very bird friendly large suburban CT yard and have already observed first broods of robins and catbirds this year, reared in appropriate nests and locales. What is going on here?

  32. Years ago, catbirds were common in my family’s back yard. I have been living in my house for over 20 years and have never seen one in my neighborhood. There are plenty of mockingbirds which, I believe, enjoy the same diet. Why are the catbirds strangers in my neighborhood (Cincinnati, OH)?

    1. Catbirds and Mockingbirds compete for the same food and habitat, so it’s unusual to have both in the same location. Since we moved, we have Catbirds but no Mockingbirds. Our previous home was just the opposite.

  33. I live on a lake in Northern NJ and have catbirds every year. But, they are so secretive that I have never found a nest. I cultivate blueberry bushes as they love the berries, and I love to watch them feeding.

  34. I had a row of blueberries which the cat birds loved. They nested in a holly tree outside of my kitchen window . It was neat to hear their call like a cat meowing softly in addition to their singing.

  35. I have a very friendly, inquisitive Catbird that usually accompanies me in the garden when I’m working in it. As soon as I start planting or ripping up weeds, he’ll perch close by and call to let me know he’s there watching. Once I’ve ripped up an area of weeds, he’ll jump down and start routing around the area for insects, even if I’m not far away in a new spot. My garden buddy cracks me up, and I love the company!

    1. Exactly the relationship I have with our catbird. When he follows me so closely in the vegetable garden, he sings with the softest, sweetest little chortle, as if he’s letting me know he’s right there with me and could I please share any “finds” with him. Often he doesn’t wait for handouts but hops right in to the area I’m weeding or planting. Love, love, love his company.

  36. A very interesting article about a really neat bird. I’m fascinated to think the catbirds around my place near Philadelphia don’t mix with my family’s catbirds in the midwest in their wintering grounds.

    I’ve noticed this summer there seem to be a lot more catbirds than I’ve ever seen before; I can’t seem to go anywhere, even in the city, without seeing and hearing one. Are their populations on the increase?

  37. humorist h allan smith quoted expression, ‪#‎in‬ the catbird seat#, meaning ideally situated—i thought it referred to a cat ready to pounce, so today i learned something…but the original understanding seems more relevant, anyway.

  38. I am SURE that our Catbirds are the same ones each year, or their progeny. How?! Because the two pairs each nest very near to our elderberry bushes (on either side of the house/yard) and guard against all other (catbird) comers and most other species as well! There is NO way a new yard catbird can find an elderberry bush before it flowers, so I’m pretty darn sure that our lovely singers who serenade us each summer are regulars. They are over the moon with singing and activity when the berries are ripe!!

  39. We love the catbirds around our home in Brewster on Cape Cod. They are also very smart. They are the only birds that discover the holes in our net over our raspberry patch and hop in and out along the ground and next to the shed without a problem. Plus when I am picking, one sits on the pole supporting the net and yells at me!- probably saying get away from my berries!

  40. …very nice interesting commentaries..
    I would like to ”add” something..about ”my catbirds ” !..I live in Milford NH and for many years I did try
    to entice the bluebird so called of happiness ….I did keep a special feeder only with dry meal worms ..finally I do have them , beautiful !..but..the dry meal worms are pretty expensive !..the feeder is right outside of my window..and the ”blue-s ” are coming..but so did the cat birds !..soo..what to do with them ?!.. they do like bred , I did notice..and also they do like peanut butter..when in the spring I did make a plate for Baltimore orioles..( they spent very short time in my yard..this year I mean )..I did see the catbird eating with grate pleasure peanut butter..than..not too far from the blue birds feeder with meal worms..I hanged a feeder with peanut’s was the ”convention ” !..I give you peanut butter, you do not get the meal worms ! worked ! could see them , many times at the same , the blue , near the window having the mealworms and the”cat” the other feeder , having the peanut butter..funny, in the last month they are a lot of young red belly wood peckers coming to have peanut butter !..and the cat birds..yes, they are clever and friendly , I am on the porch working with their feeders…they are less than 3-4 feet from I do see the new generations of both, the bluebirds and the catbirds..I would say..many years ago..when I did hear a cat bird for the first time..I did believe it’s a lost kitten !( we do not have them in East Europe, the place I’m from..)
    ..I’m curious when they leave..I mean , migrate…in the last 2-3 days..I did not see them as many times as they use to show up..

  41. I had catbirds that returned every summer to my 1/2 acre with a creek in Toledo Oh. They ate the grape jelly that I put out for the Baltimore Orioles. Always interesting to watch them and enjoyed listening to their cat like sounds. Great article, thanks!!

  42. 5/11/16 8:12 am
    I hear a shreik outside my window. One minute later my cat enters with a mouthful of adult Catbird, which he deposits at my feet. I quickly/gently snatch the bird from him, offering my bedroom as a hiding place. It goes straight behind the nightstand – alive, but scared.
    It’s an hour now, and I haven’t seen him fly yet. He runs on the floor and hides in corners.
    If he can fly, I will summarily release him to go about his morning agenda. I put birdseed and water on the floor near him. Should I leave him a raisin or orange slice, too?

  43. What a great piece. Spotted one in my yard this morning in Boston and didn’t know anything about the bird. Hope he returns & will put out some raisins.

  44. Have a catbird couple nesting in my wooded garden in Scarborough Maine. They visit my feeders daily and try unsuccessfully to land on the birch log suet feeders. Saw one selecting sticks for the nest. Catbirds are wonderful conversationalists, will stop and talk with you, answer in their fashion.




  46. My Catbirds are very friendly. They seek me out when I am outside in the yard. I don’t feed them or do anything more than whistle to them or talk to them … lol Is this part of their characteristics?

  47. I live in Central Pennsylvania and one summer a catbird nested in our big bushes and he would come up on our porch even while we sat there and he used the birdbath. Then next spring, we know the same one came back because he came up on the porch again, as if to say hello. But, sadly, he and his mate went across the yard and attempted to nest in the bushes that are right by the road, which is busy because it’s the main road that connects everything. He would sing to his mate every morning. Well, one morning I didn’t hear him and I walked up by the road and crossed it and there was a dead male catbird lying on the side of the road, hit by a car. I was so sad. He was like our little friend. I’ll always remember this experience with that catbird. Other catbirds have since nested in our bushes close to the house. They use the birdbath, but don’t come on the porch.

  48. Love my cat bird, we call her Miss Kitty. She goes nuts for a half cantaloupe with raisins, and my home made suet. If there is no suet, she will follow me, walking, all over the yard, bitching the whole time! I have a magic dog, Chevy, part german shepherd, part airedale that chases starlings off the suet..Miss Kitty will wait patiently until Chevy dispenses with them, and hops back on it. She will land beside him, and complain if he isn’t doing a proper job. Love her, it would not be the same without being nagged by her!

  49. I live in Hopewell Virginia. I enjoy feeding birds. The cat bird is one of my favorites. I believe the same birds come back to my yard each year. I make a mewing sound that attracts them . I put meal worms on the step and they look for them . They also like suet and will fly up to get it underneath the feeder. I have watch them fill their beaks with suet or dry worms and fly off to feed their young.
    It is now September 10 and I have not seen a cat bird in about a week. I am wondering if they have migrated south?

  50. We have had the pleasure of 2 pairs of catbirds return for the last 4 years. I believe they are the same since they know where the treats are.
    This year, a young catbird hit our front window very hard. We heard the bang on the window. We ran out and found the bird on his back and thought he was lost. We gently turned him over, he was still breathing and waited, watching him from a distance for over an hour. He recovered and flew off. We saw him at our fountain the next day. We identified him by his short tail and coloration of his head. He was fine!
    They are our favorite bird, so curious and beautiful.

  51. I had a Catbird show up in my yard in Flin Flon, Manitoba on October 30th 2016. It’s now November 2nd and it’s still here! It’s weathered below freezing temperatures and snowstorms. It seems to like oatmeal and peanut butter mixed with premium bird seed but will also eat fruit and jam. What a cutie! I have pictures of it on eBirds.

  52. We live in Central Florida and have a Cat Bird who is now back for the third year. He shows up around early November. We can hear him early in the morning pecking at his reflection in the mirror on my car or my husband’s truck. We look forward to seeing him each year.

  53. I have a beautiful pair of cat birds in my back yard they are eating sunflower seeds. Is that unusual ?

    1. Hi Barbara, As far as I can find out by looking around on trusted bird sites like Cornell & Audubon, that is unusual. The Wild Bird Habitat Store (I’m not sure of their source for the information, so take this part with a grain of salt) suggests this is perhaps not unheard of, especially if the seeds are already cracked open and they are eating the hearts.

  54. We have a catbird that pecks on our windows, drives us crazy. This started happening last June. So I’m thinking it’s the same bird as last spring. The bird is back this week. We live in Massachusetts. I’m curious, have you ever heard of this strange behavior?

    Thank you,

  55. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the essay on catbirds by Joe Smith, PhD. Each year here in Holland Twp, NJ I look forward to the return of the catbirds, whose calls sound as if they are actually calling out to members of our household — Jer-eeeee, Er-in! I’m not sure if the catbird mates are the same two who were here in previous years, but I am seeing some interesting behavior. Whereas the catbirds were initially shy some years back, they eventually decided to join other birds as ground feeders on our patio, especially since I’ve started feeding them nuts. This year they will land very close to me as I come out to feed my morning visitors. Another new and interesting change is that these two catbirds will “follow me” around the property, flying to catch up to me, landing when I stop and flying close to me again when I begin to walk. I’ll now take Dr. Smith’s suggestion and try feeding them soaked raisins in gratitude for their unique character!

  56. I accidentally left a cooked chicken breast on my patio one day and was surprised to see the catbirds pecking at it! I left it there for them all afternoon since they seemed to be enjoying it. Media, PA.

  57. I’ve discovered a catbird nest that’s home to a mom and four chicks in a forsythia bush within two feet of our kitchen window. The chicks have feathers and some nude spots. I think they hatched about six days ago. We’ve installed thick drapes over the window, and I put my camera on a tripod, so that it pokes through a gap in the drapes. I’m getting some really cool pictures of the mom taking care of her babies. I do see a second catbird who hangs out in the vicinity, and I don’t know whether this is the father.

    Do the males look any different than the females?

  58. Catbirds have been nesting successfully in my yard for over 20 years. We are always happy to see them arrive come spring and enjoy their curious nature. This year however has been somewhat different. There have been two or more pairs trying to make our 1 acre lot their home although only one nest has been found. The nest is in the same location where a pair nested last year… in an oakleaf hydrangea by my front door. There were 4-5 turquoise eggs and as far as I could see, 4 hatchlings. We peeked at them daily; about the 5th day (guesstimate) the nestlings were gone and I am sure they were not mature enough to fledge. The nest appears undisturbed and after searching around they were not found. Parent birds confront us in an accusatory manner, fussing wildly, every time we go out the door as if we have taken the babies! Have you ever heard of this behavior? Could the other Catbirds have abducted them? I haven’t recently seen any cats or other predators around other than an occasional Cooper’s Hawk but the nest is quite secluded. We live in a residential setting. Thanks for any help you might offer. BTW, do you by chance know Edy Goodyear from Ecuador? I met him this spring on a birding outing in NC.

  59. hi joe,

    I live in the INTERLAKE of MANITOBA, CANADA. I am all excited today. We have three catbirds who have been
    here for a few hours. they seem to be chasing each other around inside a dense shrub. One is carrying a
    piece of dried grass. Could this be female with two male? I would love to here from you about this.

    Thank you

  60. I had a pair on my property this year in southern Ontario. At mid June they just up and left. They’re nowhere to be seen or heard. I’m disappointed. Could they have been forced off by House Wrens? They arrived around the same time.

  61. Central PA: Our catbird parents have done well this year. Their 3rd brood has left the nest this week. July 30th. So interesting to watch. The first two broods have stayed on to help with the new chicks. We offer them raisins and fresh water. They rule the yard like gang of thugs. There are only a few species they allow to visit. Dad has begun to chase off his own male offspring juveniles that have stayed on too long.

  62. Enjoyed the article. I’m a bird lover who has been observing this beauty in my yard. I have been putting up various feeders and variety of foods to attract different birds. The oriole feeder that I filled with orange slices and grape jelly didn’t bring the orioles that I hoped for (unless I didn’t catch them), but my catbird/s went for the jelly!

  63. Hi Joe, I have an injured Catbird. He/she flew into my window. He can’t stand on a branch but is eating & seems to be making progress. I’ve been giving him seeds, mealy worms & fruit. I was told if he can not be released back into the wild he would be euthanized. So, that’s why I still have him.
    Can you advise me of anything else I should do? Thank you, Connie

  64. Hello! Your cat birds may be my cat birds! I’m a Floridian, and have a pair in the thistles in my back yard. It’s late April, and I was wondering why these guys haven’t headed north, so I came to do research, and found your very interesting article. Hopefully they’ll be coming your way soon, and will have safe travels.

  65. My backyard is full of catbirds.They have spent the winter at my house. I have found that they love old fashion uncooked oatmeal, cornflakes, plain donuts, bread and of all the fruits I have offered them dates are their favorite. Catbirds are fun to watch. They will take on Grackles if their fruit or oatmeal is

  66. 511/2018
    Thanks for this beautiful and informational article…easy reads are just right at this time in my life as my son just died less then a month ago I’m grieving terribly for his loss. I always look at my birds out back he was so into nature! he was 31 planted many bushes to attract hummingbirds etc., but he didn’t live here but not far (he was in Phila.). So
    I see so many cat birds since he died. I am always reading about birds and tried to Google but found nothing about their significance, we all know about the darling Cardinal in which I have many! Love them.
    I will continue to look into Googling this and that was how I found your page.
    I see hummingbirds in pictures by chance and it make me smile and I talk to him and thank him.
    Birds have kept me sane through this loss watching them daily at my feeders…even the cat birds comes to the ledge on my deck (2 together) and I have never seen this? also reading up on them I hear them since so long and luckily found out that this bird music was from them since I saw one sing and then it meowed like a cat.
    Joy they bring..all of the birds are precious…helps me get through a day.
    TY for letting me vent.
    Marianne D. Guzzardo

    1. So sorry for your loss, Marianne. My wife lost her only child, her precious son at age nine back in 1994. We have parrots and enjoy nature and outside birds. We compensate for helping those who can’t help themselves by supporting animal shelters and rescues. Peace.

  67. When I was a kid, I spent a couple of weeks at a summer camp, like oh, so many kids do. It was in the wee hours of the morning when I heard what I knew to be a kitten in distress. I got up, got dressed and began peeping through the brush to find this poor kitty. It seemed, though, that every time I got close, the sound came from further away. I was so consumed by finding the kitten that I got lost. It turns out, of course, that I was chasing the call of a catbird all morning. Pretty embarrassing, but I would never forget what a catbird sounds like.

  68. There are 2 cat birds building a nest in a bush in my back yard. I have a six month old puppy that has bird dog in his blood. He is going absolutely crazy chasing them. Would it be a good idea to move the nest before it is complete. I can’t see how they will be able to lay eggs, have babies and feed them in peace with my pooch attacking them. I also worry that if it gets to that point, then will my dog become the target? Please advise asap. M

  69. I love my catbirds in eastern PA. I have a pair that are all about being protective over a large and tall Forsythia in the narrow side yard. I’ve seen one approaching the shrub with next material in mouth, but I can not for the life of me see where in the shrub it is. I’m wondering how long it takes for the gray cat bird to finish building it’s nest. Eventually, if it’s in that Forsythia one should be nesting in there.

  70. I’m followed around the yard by chipmunks, squirrels & bluejays as we live on the edge of a big forest. A catbird recently started appearing in the brush & tree branches above, following. Very quiet & shy at first- He now appears openly, to ‘ask’ for an unsalted, roasted, in-shell peanut. A very intelligent & crafty bird, indeed. Thanks for the great article about the wonderful catbird, btw!

  71. Catbirds in our suburban backyard here in Cary, North Carolina, sound almost IDENTICAL to a cat meowing. It is amazing. They come to our feeder, suet block, and bird bath every day. Enjoy watching them with their little, black feathered caps. Interesting birds to watch!

  72. Hi Joe, I have a catbird that has recently been visiting my deck several times a day to leave his droppings! I can clean it up and come back a few hours later and find it all over again! Is this a common trait? I’m talking …a dozen or more large spots!.

  73. I work on a golf course in Massachusetts, and we are blessed with many beautiful, fearless, inquisitive and very chatty Gray Catbirds on the grounds. I know where they nest (mostly in thorny, dense bushes and shrubs) and if any fellow workers try to trim back those bushes, I tell them no way! The birds and their nesting habitat come first. It’s nice to see so many comments from people who both love and appreciate the presence of these birds as much as I do. I am going to look into a fruit feeder, because we have them here in our back yard, too. The more catbirds, the merrier!

    P.S. I also saw a beautiful male Eastern Bluebird at the golf course a few weeks ago as well. Such a beautiful -and rare – sight here in most of eastern Massachusetts.

  74. Thank you for this article. I have always loved catbirds. Though I do love the color grey, it was not the color of the catbird that attracted me, but their curious and gregarious nature in the yard. This year was finally the first time they nested in my city yard with shrubs and trees getting larger. I was fascinated by their stealth almost warrior like constant vigilance in the whole process. They were experts at diverting my attention away from just where they were nesting, even though I knew it had to be right under my nose, which it was. The babies came out and hung out in the yard shrubbery for a day or two and then were gone. I was disappointed that they did not start a second brood in the same nest and they all seem to have moved on now (it’s early July). Do they build a new nest elsewhere for a second brood?

  75. Oh, regarding my just posted comment, I’m in Eastern, PA. Allentown.

  76. I have seen them here in Ct,
    They come and eat suet and drink water, they seem to be a bit shy?!!!

  77. Though I find the calls of the catbird less than melodic, I have no animus toward this creature; however, as they devour all of my black raspberries and blueberries, I have decided to do my best to discourage them from hanging around.

  78. A male Gray Catbird came to my feeder in early November. It is still here today, Jan 6th 2019. It appears to eat seeds, pecks at the suet block (maybe for the embedded seeds?) & checks my open compost pile. Now that I have read your info, I will add some fruit. Graham Edwards Lions Head Ont Can. ( Right on the 49th Parallel)

  79. Listening to the cat-bird’s call, I realize that I have heard this bird my whole life! I was confusing the call with that of a blue jay. The cat-bird is somewhat “squeakier” than the jay, and not so rancorous. Lived in Florida most of my life, now in Western North Carolina. I will be paying more attention to who visits my feeders now. Thank you!

  80. Thanks for the article, we have a pair of catbirds that return every year. Our yard is mostly surround by bushes and small evergreen trees which allows them follow me around the yard like a little gray shadows and sometimes sqawk if I’m not paying attention to the moth they just caught. My husband I always comment that the catbirds are spying on us again. I will have to put some fruit out for them as a treat I did not know they were a tropical bird.

  81. We have two catbirds in our yard. One of them flies to our windows and picks against them from early morning to early evening. He/she also eats nuts and berries off the bird feeder but most of the time it picks against the window.

  82. Thank you for the information . We have a very friendly catbird family here this year which may be the same 2 as last year with a year old young one maybe tagging along still? The three come to me for fruit , only a few inches away and fed from a spoon!Maybe someone in Florida has been feeding it over the winter.

  83. We discovered a gray catbird nesting in a shrub about 2 feet from the house and 5 feet off the ground. There were three baby birds in the nest, mother sitting on them. We would observe the mother feeding them and the papa nearby. The chicks were always hungry. We could easily look down at the birds in the nest from our bedroom window. It seemed as though they were still very young and dependent on being fed, did not look very mature at all. We last saw the birds about 9:30 in the morning. At 2:30 p.m. the nest was empty! I was disappointed as I was curious as to when/how they would leave the nest. How young can the birds fly away—does the female somehow push them out?
    We also live in South Jersey as the author of this site does.

  84. Catbirds were devouring my apple cores until around June 1st. I put out a fresh on 2X daily. Any reason for this? Have they moved on, did mommy bird like them while nesting?
    Thank you!

  85. I have the sweetest little gray catbird living very close to the house this year, for the first time…I’ve always had them ‘up the hill’, away from the house. He/she’s so cute, so friendly! as friendly as the house wrens! Always flitting close by when I’m working in the many gardens. Here’s my questions: is it true that they steal the nests of other birds? And is it true that they mimic the sounds/songs of other birds?

  86. My friend, Three Feathers, the catbird.

    Earlier this summer, I went up to my art room to paint and saw three loose tail feathers on the carpet that our cat Iggy was pawing at. With much trepidation, I searched the room looking for a mutilated bird, but my heart leapt I looked up at the ceiling fan and saw the creature perched up there safe, sound and scared — the look on his face was priceless. I covered him in a towel and released him outside thinking he would just plop to the ground, but he flew over the house. He was happy as was I.

    The rest of the summer was awesome. Every time I went outside, Three Feathers, as I named him, flew down low and close and “talked” with me. I could just tell he knew me and was thankful that I saved his life. He would appear on low hanging , sit on a branch inside our lilac bushes, on a fence, standing in the grassy shade of an apple tree in our acknyard. I would call his name, go “mew, mew, mew” or “kitty, kitty, kitty” and he would show up minutes later, mere feet from me.

    People think I might be nuts, be we have parrots and we know how intelligent avians are. There is no doubt in my mind that we had a visceral connection. He and his family brought a lot of and fun to our summer, but I haven’t seen him lately, so maybe they left for Mexico. I am encouraged by your blog that they might be back next year.

  87. I’ve have a few pairs of catbirds this year inNewHampshire ! I feed them grape jelly and half oranges that I put onto small branches . They love and I love to hear them. I will try raisins next Spring.

  88. A male catbird has returned to our woods clearing each of the last three summers. I know it is the same one as he seeks me out as I garden, sometimes sitting only three feet from me as I weed . watching for insects and this year, even being so bold as to alight if ever so briefly on my fingers to snatch crickets from my hand. When he and his mate were feeding nestlings, he would even alight on the small glass table next to my chair as I had my morning coffee. I am very fond of this catbird, miss him when he leaves and celebrate his return in April. It is now late August and it appears he is molting. Or could this be one of his fledged nestlings who has learned of the gardener who hands out crickets?

  89. I have gotten close with the catbirds in our yard over the last few years, one thing I have found
    is they are very fond of pistachios, we have been using “Feathered Friend” shell-less select
    seed from “Agway”with has a good amount of the nut in their bags. Our catbirds comes when I’m in
    the yard and sit squawking on a branch, I’ll flick a few broken up nuts in their vicinity, he’ll come down from the branch
    and devour them and take off. It’s a ritual that has played out for the last few seasons.
    Not sure how many people are aware of this trait. Curious to have your feedback. We live in the
    woods of East Quogue, New York.

  90. We have what we believe is a catbird fluttering into our windows for several hours every morning. However, we live in Estes Park, Colorado at 8,000 feet above sea level. He/she is very persistent in this fruitless pursuit. We have lived in our house for 8 years and have never seen a catbird in the area. Is this one lost?

  91. The Cat Birds arrive here in my yard and neighborhood May 7th. What a delight it is to hear them return to Southeastern Massachusetts with their lovely happy song. They are my favorite birds, along with the Mockingbird. By July there are no male Cat Birds to be heard or seen, only the female, who meows. I can’t figure out were all of the males disappear to. I suspect that the hawks have something to do with their disappearance, drawn to the male Cat Birds song. My heart sinks when the male Cat Bird is no longer singing to me his beautiful song.

  92. Last spring my husband fed a pair of catbirds blue berries cut in half. They became almost tame. He would whistle for them and would place pieces of blue berry closer and closer on the deck rail until they were almost eating out of his hand. I have just seen a pair this year that seem to be looking on the table as if they are remembering last year. I must buy some blueberries!

  93. Thank you for the interesting information on the grey catbird. I got to see one up close, which is how I identified it. It is hard to imagine this little bird would fly a thousand miles to come back here year after year. All that way. Amazing.

  94. Why is my catbird pecking at all my windows? Does it see a reflection and think it’s another bird?

  95. I live in a townhouse in downtown Philadelphia. I have several very tame cat birds that return every spring (early May). They go for the berries I set out for them on my patio table – often while I’m sitting only a foot or two away. On two occasions they’ve even flown into my dining room when I left the screen door open by mistake. In both cases I simply spoke gently to my ‘visitor’, pointed to the doorway, and he/she immediately flew out, back to the patio, awaiting their next treat!

  96. I live in Iowa and have a large flower garden in front of my home. I believe that I have a Catbird that has returned and will actually land in the garden when I am watering in the mornings. The bird doesn’t appear as frightened as some and actually gets very close in proximity to where I am working. I have seen the mate as well and I find them entertaining.

  97. Joe, I have had catbirds in my yard for three years now. They are very attentive to everything I do in the yard. I can’t change anything without their consent. The last couple of days however, a new behavior has emerged. The bird catches a bug or worm and then presents it to me, noisily and while hopping from branch to branch. Today two catbirds were definitely trying to get my attention with various bugs and worms. I especially noticed in one area of my yard. Was this to distract me from their nest nearby?

    1. Andrew, I’ve suspected the catbirds in my front yard try to distract me when I’m near the burning bush that they nest in. I never noticed them offering me anything. They flutter their wings which look too tiny to fly with or get quite close and hop around in the myrtle “tree”.

  98. Thank you for the great visual stroll. I’ve seen many of them here in the suburbs of Chicago. Betting you’re a great person to go birdwatching with?

  99. Thank you so much Joe for your info about gray Catbirds. I had no idea they migrated so far and can live so long. Good to know. During this pandemic, I have become more aware of the habits of the catbirds in my yard. In particular, the fact that they love to take baths! They totally let loose with their flapping and going under the water, then jumping out, then jumping back in again! Such a pleasure to watch them during the really hot days. I feel honored to have them return to my yard here in Delaware County PA.

  100. I have a catbird in my yard for the first time ever. It tries land and feed but the robins that feed in the tomato patch chase him off no matter what. Is there a way I can get the two to co exhist? I don’t want the robins to leave but I’m getting more than a little upset with them over this.

  101. My catbirds have been coming to my Northern New York yard for 30 Years…I bought my home in 1991 and next Summer will be 30 Years..They nest in the same exact brushes and have never changed..I enjoy them as much as anything and it’s now August and I’m even sad that they will be leaving,,,I pray to God that my Catbirds and myself live another year so we can see each other again…Sorry for acting like a baby but that’s how I feel..Thank you

  102. I had catbirds in my yard this summer (2020) and after Storm Isaias went through….they are no longer here? Is there a reason this happened? Strangest thing, because they’ve been coming to my yard for the past few years.

  103. Hi Joe, back in May I found a catbird in the floor he was only days old. I dedicated to raised him we had a great time, till this day I call him and he comes to my hand or my head. I have a cage open with food and water, now is September and I’m worry about the winter, I see him with another catbird in the bushes, I love him so much I’m afraid if he migrates he not going to make it. should I keep safe in the cage until spring or let him go? his like a domestic pet he goes to any human around, help me please… I’m in New Jersey.
    Olinda Santos

  104. We live in Central Ontario Canada, about 100 km north of Toronto. For the past two winters we have enjoyed a lone catbird at our feeder during the entire frigid Canadian winter. This spring at last he was joined by another cat bird and they both sat at the feeder everyday. What I am wondering is why suddenly are they taking all of the seeds that are in the trough of the feeder and flicking them on to the ground? I teased my husband telling him that the new arrival is a female catbird who is finally showing him how catbirds should eat! ? They will empty our feeder within a whole day. Why do you think this is happening?

  105. A juvenile gray catbird flew into my deck window this a.m. it was stunned for a while below the window where i took a picture before it flew off to a adjacent oak tree branch and then off an unviewable location. I have never seen this type of bird here in Ballwin, MO just west of st. Louis. I also have for the past 2-3 years 4-5 bluebirds nesting in my backyard bluebird house. This was a welcome delight as bb’s are not often seen in suburban areas.

  106. Thanks for your information on the catbird. Two just showed up at my house a few days ago. I am enjoying them. They do not seem camera shy at all. I enjoyed your video on the catbird song.

  107. Interesting information about Catbirds! I had no idea that they migrate to and from tropical climes like Hummingbirds. However, I came to your site looking for answers as to why these birds are drinking the food we put out for our Hummingbirds… I gather from your raisin notes, that it must be the sugary potion the Catbirds like. They have a “sweet tooth” so to speak!
    Unfortunately, they are keeping the Hummers from returning to their feeders.

    Is there some way to keep the Catbirds away from the Hummingbird feeders?

  108. My bird comes when I work in the yard and kind of follows me around–especially when I disturb soil. Seems to be a repeat from last year and comes quite near me without fear.

  109. The Catbirds , which appeared to be two pairs, suddenly disappeared after a torrential rain event about a months ago. We are in Kent Connecticut, northwest corner of the state. Was it coincidental, that maybe they migrated then? The Phoebe pair also disappeared at the same time.

  110. Hi Joe, I enjoyed reading your tribute to catbirds. That being said, I am in the outskirts of Phoenix, AZ and dealing with a pair of mating catbirds that have nested in my orange tree in the area that my dog uses to potty. I’m sure you can guess that now my dog doesn’t even want to go outside as she gets dive-bombed every time, as do I when I try to go with her. As a bird lover I really don’t want to disturb the birds, but my dog needs to be able to do her thing and I’m unable to walk her. Is there anything I can do to achieve a symbiotic relationship ?

  111. My house is under attack by a very aggressive catbird! he goes from window to window, I suppose attacking his reflection. It’s been like a bad Hitchcock movie for a week now, and I’ve tried the fake owl, covering the glass with brown paper (neither of which has worked, And, I’ve had to park my car outside the past couple of days so he’s after that darn reflection in the side mirror and windshield!! Argghh!!! make him stop! bird poop everywhere! I guess I need to hire a CAT! 😉

  112. Thank you, Joe, for this excellent and informative article. I just saw our first catbirds of the season today (May 3, 2022) in Arlington, VA. One visited our bird feeder with a gourmet mix of nuts and sunflower kernels. I had never seen them before at our feeder and came across your article to learn more. We have been enjoying them for many years as they return to our location here in the Mid-Atlantic year after year.

  113. Great article now we know what type of bird this is in our neighborhood we so enjoyed this article very informative ??

  114. We live in Ocean County, NJ and have made our fairly large backyard welcoming to both resident and migratory birds. Several catbirds arrive in early spring and each year there is a nest in a forsythia
    “thicket” . We didn’t realize that they lived as long as they do and that it may be the same birds year after year. Is it possible that they get to know us and therefor seem to be more and more comfortable being
    very close to us when we are outdoors?

  115. Grey catbird’s singing ability outstanding. Many reviews of his song use words like”discordant “ or “ not melodic” My humble opinion is that he has a ton of talent and nobody in New England works harder,singing right through hot early July mornings long after most other songsters break off until late afternoon. It’s mostly over by the second half of July, but a few birds keep it up till August 1st.

  116. Gray catbirds may not be found year-round in Cape May, but they’re certainly here in abundance in Southeast Pennsylvania all year. In summer, I sometimes see them eating spotted lanternflies as well as other insects. They also occasionally peck my ripening tomatoes. In the frost and snow season, they eat out of my bird feeder. Cornell’s map shows them as non-migratory on the Eastern Seaboard.

  117. QUESTION: I’m in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Every year I have several pairs of orioles and even more pairs of catbirds that return annually. Normally they all leave around the same time to migrate south. I feed them grape jelly all summer until that happens. This year the resident orioles left around the end of July. The catbirds were still here. In the meantime, another group of migrating? orioles arrived in mid August and stayed here for several weeks before taking flight. It is now almost the end of September and the catbirds are still here. Should I stop feeding them to encourage them to move on?