Tag Archives: Gray Catbird

HELLO FUNNY CATBIRDS!

I’ve yet to meet a Catbird I don’t love! With big personalities and a repertoire of beautiful melodies they are no stranger to gardens planted with blueberry bushes.

The first Gray Catbird to make an appearance in our garden arrived the day we planted blueberries. We don’t grow enough blueberries to provide all that we, and the Catbirds, would like to eat, so for the past several years I have been feeding the Catbirds handfuls at a time, the ones that come in the box that are smallish, and generally more sour tasting. If I forget to refill the bowl, the mom Catbird perches on a table just outside the kitchen window, calling and calling until the bowl is replenished. This summer she was joined by two fat little fledglings, also demanding of blueberries. The other day, both fledglings sat smack in the middle of the blueberry bowl and then proceeded to have a disagreement over the fruit!

Mature Gray Catbirds are mostly slate gray all over, with a little black cap, and when in flight, flash rufous red underneath. They belong to the same family of birds as do Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers, Mimidae, having that wonderful ability to copy the sounds of other songbirds and string them together to make their own music. During mating season, male Catbirds use their songs to establish their territory. The song may last up to ten minutes. This past spring, while walking along the wooded edge of a dune, I came upon a male singing his heart out. I didn’t have my tripod with me, but began recording him while singing. Boy, did my arms grow weary trying to capture the song in its entirety!

Catbird Egg

The oldest Gray Catbird was recorded to live 17 years. Catbirds are monogamous and if undisturbed, return to the same nesting site year after year. I love knowing that it’s quite possible that our current Catbird mama and papa may be the very same family that have been here for the past several years.

Patti Papows resident blueberry-eating Catbird

Note about the benefits of of planting blueberry bushes ~ Did you know that blueberries are native to North America? Fantastic for attracting songbirds to the garden, the foliage is also a caterpillar food plant for Spring and Summer Azure butterflies, and the blossoms provide nectar for myriad species of pollinating insects, including many species of native bees.

 

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Many hours later (not realizing how daunting) the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.

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Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.

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Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!

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While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbird

eastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smithThe summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Three Muskrateersfemale-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpg

There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.

cecropia-moth-caterpillar-copyright-kim-smithPristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.

female-mallard-nine-ducklings-kim-smithThank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you would like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

PRETTY BLUE CATBIRD EGG

Gray Catbird holly tree copyright Kim SmithMew, mew, mew coming from the trees overhead–my husband asks–“Are those catbirds making that dying cat sound.” Yes, honey, and we’re going to be hearing a great deal more of that cat call with this sweet Gray Catbird nest!

Discovered amidst the holly bush branches while giving the shrub a good pruning, the female was seen building the nest, with her mate supplying bits of straw and twigs for the nesting materials. The Gray Catbird is a frequent visitor to gardens. I swear, the day we planted blueberry bushes is the day the Catbirds began to call our garden their home. If you want Catbirds nesting in your garden, plant the foods they love, which include shadbush, holy, winterberry, and both high and low bush blueberries. And too if we don’t have any fruit ripening in the garden, I’ll place a bowl out on a table with berries from our frig (chopped into small bits), not only attracting Catbirds, but also Cardinals, Robins, and many of our other fine feathered friends.

Gray Catbird egg nest copyright Kim SmithOne pretty blue Catbird egg–on average, the female will lay four. Hopefully more are yet to come.

Gray Catbird copyright Kim Smith

Splish Splash

Bird Bath Gray Catbird ©Kim Smith 2014Click image to view larger

The day we planted blueberry bushes is the very same day the catbirds began to call our garden home. We now see Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) throughout the seasons, devouring the seeds and fruit of holly, crabapple, winterberry, magnolia, blueberry, and shad. Their cat-like cries, which lends the species their common name, are welcome and often heard. Gray Catbirds are in the Mimidae Family and, like their relatives the Mockingbirds, also mimic the songs of other birds.

Although I have read that catbirds are shy, they seem relatively sociable in our garden and aren’t threatened by the presence of people within close proximity. We keep the bird baths filled with fresh clean water and I especially love to watch the catbirds from our kitchen window as they are so exuberant in their bathing habits–diving and splashing and then drying their wings at the edge of the basin. Oh Joyous Spring!

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis ©Kim Smith 2014

Message from Chris Leahy about the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon

Spring has finally returned to New England! It is arguably the most exciting birding season of the year, when it is possible to find over 100 species in a day with relative ease – many of them in stunning breeding plumage!  And each year I organize a small group here on Cape Ann to bird for conservation as part of Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon. It’s great fun, involves some friendly competition, and supports bird conservation.

Here’s how it works.

This year Bird-a-thon takes place May 11-12 and consists of having as much birding fun as we can stand in the 24 hours between 6:00 PM Friday until 6:00 PM Saturday. Back in 2004, I thought it would be fun to see how many species we could find without leaving Cape Ann (Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester). In addition to the geographical challenge, this reduces birding time lost to driving (one of our team birds by bicycle!) and of course shrinks the team’s carbon footprint. In the 7 years that Cape Ann has fielded a team, we have ticked 183 species total with an average of 132 species per year –dragged down by monsoon rains in two years! In our best single year we found 156 species.

The Cape Ann Bird-a-thon team is back this year with its (catchy?) nickname, “Twitchers with a Purpose” to emphasize the fact that all funds raised will go to specific bird conservation projects. The conservation dollars that can be raised can be significant. For example, last year, Drumlin Farm’s team won the prized Hathaway Cup for raising the most money ($34,820) and a dedicated individual on that team was the statewide top fundraiser with $15,309 raised. My team is trying to hit the $5,000 mark this year.

This, as you’ve probably guessed, is where you come in by pledging to my team as generously as you can. You can either pledge an amount per bird ($1/species @ 132 species = $132) or just pledge a set amount. Pledging is a snap. Just go to my webpage:http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/chrisleahy/bird-a-thon-2012 , click on the green DONATE button and just follow the simple pledging instructions. OR you can just send a check made out to Mass Audubon and designated for the Bertrand Chair (that’s me), attn: Ellen McBride, Mass Audubon, 208 South Great Rd., Lincoln, MA 01773. No gift is too small (or too large!) and all are eligible for a charitable deduction.

I hope you can help. Remember, your pledge will be dedicated to specific bird conservation efforts undertaken by my colleagues and me at Mass Audubon, such as the recently publish and authoritative State of the Birds report. I can assure you on the best existing evidence that our birds need all the help you can give them.

Thank you Chris for all you do to help the birds of Massachusetts!

Gray Catbird 

In looking through my photo library for an image for this post, I am reminded of when the Catbirds and Mockingbirds began to call our garden home–when our first batch of blackberries ripened! Catibirds dine on fruits and berries and are year-round frequent visitors for the feast we provide, including blueberry, Juneberry, winterberry, and holly berry. As the fruits of our magnolias approach their ripening time, the Catbirds noisily guard the trees in anticipation of the ripened fruit.

For more information about the Gray Catbird:

Mass Audubon: Gray Catird (Dumetella carolinensis)

All About Birds: Gray Catbird

The Cornell website has excellent crisp, clear recordings of the Catbirds “mew” sound. Anyone who has heard the repetitious male catbird vocalizing at daybreak knows exactly why they are called Catbirds. From Cornell, “The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.”

Love the beautiful shade of blue of Catbird eggs!

Gray Catbird Eggs image courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology