The Shadow Bird

Last evening, a pair of gray catbirds moved through the undergrowth of our woodland border. Like their cousins, mockingbirds and thrashers, these birds are known for their "songs" of varied phrases and notes but are named for the cat-like mews that they deliver from their secluded haunts. Unlike their cousins, gray catbirds stalk the shadows, preferring dense shrubbery, tangles and the lower branches of trees; their slate-gray plumage, marked only by a black cap and a cinnamon patch under the base of their tail, suggests a fondness for shady habitat.

Arriving in the Midwest by late April or May, gray catbirds pair off and soon build a bulky nest of sticks among the shrubs or thickets. They will feed on insects throughout the nesting season but, by late summer, develop a fondness for ripening berries. Come October, they head for wintering grounds which stretch along the Southeast Coast, from the Carolinas to Florida, and along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Central America.