Gray Catbird and Northern Mockingbird
(Click on images to enlarge them.)
It’s summertime in North America—a time for outdoor activities, family reunions, and new places to explore. My feeder birds are right on schedule with their seasonal activity. Several species are bringing their hatched and fledged young ones out from the nests, showing them how to navigate the big, new world.
This human, on the other hand, is not quite on schedule in posting the June Bird of the Month, so let’s do something different. For June and July, here’s a family reunion of sorts! Explore this post to learn about the Gray Catbird and Northern Mockingbird, who are “cousins” (members of the same bird family), and draw your own conclusions about their similarities and differences.
“Mewww! Mewww!” Oh dear, did someone let a cat out? I don’t see one, but it sure sounds like it. No, wait, it’s the Gray Catbird! The catlike mew isn’t the only vocalization of the Catbird. Actually, the Catbird has a wide vocal range, like its relatives, Mockingbirds and Thrashers. But it is the mew that, once heard, will always be your clue to look for this beautiful songbird.
Catbirds are slender, medium-sized songbirds with long tails. At first glance, they may appear to be a solid, soft gray. But look carefully, and you’ll see a lovely black cap on the Catbird’s head and a surprise under its tail…a beautiful rusty set of under-tail covert feathers.
Notice the black cap and the long tail…and see the surprising under-tail color!
Catbird Diet: Gray Catbirds are insect eaters. They also enjoy a variety of small fruits, so you may see them in fruit bearing trees and shrubs. The Catbirds that visit my yard love suet and peanut butter, too!
A yummy treat!
Gray Catbirds are described as solitary and secretive, and it did take some time to see my first one. However, once they found the buffet in my yard, they overcame their shyness and became quite bold. Now fly in when they see me come out with the peanut butter jar!
Don’t forget to have water sources for all of your backyard birds…for drinking and bathing!
For the last two seasons, my neighborhood Catbirds have nested nearby (I have not seen their nests), bringing their fledglings to the yard. They are so cute!
What characteristics of these baby birds give you clues that they are Catbirds?
Unlike its more shy cousin, the Catbird, Northern Mockingbirds are active, aggressive, and easy to spot. In breeding season, they are especially defensive, and can be seen chasing other birds, animals…and yes, humans. They are really quite humorous to watch and hear!
Notice the showier coloring of the Mockingbird compared to the Catbird. You will see white wing patches, especially when it flies. You will see that the adult Mockingbird’s eyes are a striking yellow. It is also somewhat larger than its cousin Catbird.
This Mockingbird is a particular favorite of mine. Notice that it is holding up its left foot. This may be an injury or a deformity. At first, I worried about its ability to survive. Not only has it survived, but it is a thriving parent! I wonder, is it sticking its tongue out at me?!
NOTE: Unlike some species of birds that are dimorphous, meaning that males and females are different in appearance (examples: Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Cardinals), Northern Mockingbird males and females look alike, as do male and female Gray Catbirds.
Mockingbird Diet: Northern Mockingbirds are insect eaters, too, and like Catbirds, enjoy a variety of small fruits. My resident Mockingbirds are peanut butter and suet hogs!
This Mockingbird headed for suet, while the other one was enjoying some peanut butter.
The following images show Mockingbird juveniles. How do baby Mockingbirds look similar to and different from their parents?
Challenge Question: Look at the two images below. Which one is the juvenile Catbird and which one is the juvenile Mockingbird? What clues did you use to tell?
To learn more about these beautiful and vocal birds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s websites dedicated to the Gray Catbird and the Northern Mockingbird:
Be sure to go to the “Sound” tabs at both sites and listen to the songs and calls of these cousins. Now, when you hear them in the wild, will you be able to tell who’s who?
Challenge Question Answer: The juvenile Mockingbird is in the top image. Notice its more striking colors, compared to the Catbird’s subtle gray color. If you were very observant, you may have also noticed the rusty color under the Catbird’s tail.
All photographs on this website are copyright © Sunny Blue Productions, LLC.