I have been hearing the squeaky, uneven song of a gray catbird in my yard over the last couple of weeks. I like catbirds. Their plumage is not showy, being solid charcoal gray with a darker cap and russet undertail coverts, but is always kept in good, neat condition with rarely a feather out of place. They are slim and sleek birds.
Catbirds belong to a family of birds known as mimic thrushes, though they are not thrushes at all. They get this name because of their habit of mimicking other birds songs.
We have three representatives of this family in our area, the Northern mockingbird, brown thrasher and gray catbird. They are all similar in build; slim bodies, long tails, and thin slightly down-curved bills. The plumages are very different.
The mockingbird is the most expert singer of the three. These tireless singers can give long concerts with flawless imitations of many species. They often perch conspicuously on wires, roofs, and tops of shrubs and small trees.
Brown thrashers sing a song with a more burry quality than the mockingbird. They are not nearly as accomplished mimics as the mocker. I often see thrashers in my yard, running along the ground roadrunner-style, head and tail parallel to the ground. They are the largest and plumpest of the group, but still maintain the overall slim body shape.
Gray catbirds are the smallest and least accomplished as singers. Literature describes them as poor mimics, but the male I have been hearing is the best singing catbird I have heard.
I have to listen hard to hear them, but he does include short phrases and snippets of other songs that I have not noticed from other catbirds over the years. This bird is borrowing from house wrens, American robins, great-crested flycatchers, Carolina wrens, Eastern bluebirds and song sparrows. He is still no mockingbird, however.
I had only seen the singing male up until today when he was joined by another bird, I assume a female. I havent found a nest, but if there is one in my yard, it will be a new nesting species for my property.