Dear Wood Folk,
Around Haliburton, Ontario we have a few mimids/”mimic” birds. There’s the brown thrasher, which sometimes gets mistaken for a woodpecker or roadrunner. There’s the northern mockingbird, which I’ve yet to see, and has only been recorded once on iNat for Haliburton county. And there’s this slate-colored mimic called the gray catbird (dumetella carolinensis). He meows like a kitten, among a myriad of other mocking calls. There was one nesting near the studio this year, and it posed a lot:
Sometimes reminding me even more of a cat:
Gray Catbird Plant Allies
Gray catbirds forgo cardboard boxes and tight indoor hiding spots for dense scrub, shrubs, and tangled thicket or vines. You may hear them meowing away without ever seeing them.
The female does most of the work building the nest in this dense cover, usually on a hidden horizontal branch right at the center of the thicket. Dense dogwoods, thorny blackberry, red elderberry, thorny hawthorn, or a thick patch of thorny rose bush may work. Thorniness is a perk. Berry rich thickets with a water source nearby are prime real estate.
She makes a large dense cup of twigs, plant matter, and mud. Occasionally with some human trash mixed in. It’s lined with the usual fine materials like grasses, fine hairs, pine needles, and rootlets.
During summer months gray catbirds eat mainly ants and other insects. But when fruits are available they are obsessed with apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, dogwood berries, elderberries, greenbrier, hawthorn pomes, juniper berries, mountain ash, mulberries, partridgeberries, poison ivy berries, raspberries, serviceberries, staghorn sumac, strawberries, wild grapes, and holly berries like American winterberry.
More than half their diet is fruit. And they’ll raid cultivated orchards and berry patches too.
They also have a raccoon streak, besides the trash sometimes used for nesting materials. They may catch small fish and eat all matter of human food trash including sweets like pastries, or the potato scraps in your compost. Maybe if they didn’t meow they’d be raccoon birds.
Attracting Gray Catbirds
For full disclosure, gray catbirds sometimes destroy other species nests (ex. sparrows), including the young. Naughty kitty.
All the native fruit-bearing trees and shrubs mentioned above will help attract catbirds, but also letting them grow thick. And thornier species like blackberry, hawthorn, etc., will increase the chance of catbirds even more.
They’ll eat from feeders and platform feeders, all manner of bugs and fruit, and even a compost pile may be attractive (though kind of gross).
We’ll be talking about vireos next month, but then we’re switching to a pollinator theme for a while – Pollinators and their hosts plants, starting with monarchs. I’m super excited about this because every piece will be about 50:50 a butterfly or some other pollinator, and the native plant it depends on to reproduce. See you later!