Who’s eating your grape jelly? Our Pickering location is keeping track of which birds have been seen eating grape jelly from oriole feeders. So far our customers have reported Orioles, Robins, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Starlings… and the latest, Catbirds. Last week I had a customer come in to tell me about a Catbird at her jelly feeder. Coincidentally, that evening I spotted an unusual bird in my yard, and yes, it was a Catbird. This encouraged me to find out more about this inquisitive bird.
Catbirds are sleek looking birds. Slate grey in colour, sporting a black stripe on its head, and a long black tail. If you look closely when in flight, you will see rich rufous feathers under its tail. Catbirds have a thin straight bill, rounded wings and long legs. Their call note is a quiet mew, hence the name Catbird. They are in the same family as Mockingbirds and Thrashers and like Mockingbirds, they are able to mimic the songs of other birds with whistles, clicks, squawks and clucks. While listening to this jaunty fellow in the back yard, I came to think he was making up his own song as he went along. He also had the dance moves to go with the song. It was very interesting to watch him fan his tail, puff out feathers, and turn his head in varying angles. Quite the showman to impress the ladies during breeding season. Catbirds have been known to sing continuously for up to ten minutes constantly changing the sequence of notes. They will use their loud song to define territories, and their softer song to sing to each other while the female is on the nest.
The nest is built mostly by the female. She will collect twigs, grasses, leaves and sometimes garbage to construct a bulky cup measuring 5.5 inches across and two inches deep. The nest will be lined with finer grasses and pine needles. Four eggs are commonly laid and incubated for 12-13 days by the female. The eggs are greenish blue, sometimes with red spots. After hatching, both parents will feed the young who will remain in the nest for 10-11 days. They may have two broods a year. The oldest Catbird on record lived 17 years, 11 months!
Catbirds are likely to be seen in habitats that have dense shrubs, thickets, and small trees. They prefer short flights through low vegetation rather than open areas. Forest edges, overgrown fields and hedges in gardens are preferred.
A Catbirds’ diet consists mostly of berries and insects. They will flip leaves over with their bill searching for bugs. Nestlings are fed a variety of insects including beetles, ants, grasshoppers and spiders. On the wilder side of their eating habits, they have been known to enjoy corn flakes, boiled potatoes, cheese and doughnuts!
If you have fruit bearing bushes or trees in your yard you may be fortunate to enjoy the antics of this ‘bird with personality’. Don’t be surprised to see them watching you while you’re gardening. Another reason for the name Catbird, curious like a cat.
Author- Jane Paradis