Gray Catbird: A Bird That Sounds Like a Cat (With Sounds)

Singing gray catbird that sounds like a cat

The gray catbird, which is sometimes spelled grey catbird, is a bird that sounds like a cat. It has a song that’s often described as “meow” noises, and it’s the only catbird species in North America to have this trait.

The reason behind its meow-like song is that the gray catbird mimics the sounds of other animals’ cries and calls. Simply put, it imitates the noises of felines so well that it seems as if it’s an actual cat.

In this article, you will learn more about this cat-sounding bird and how to identify it. Some videos are also included below so you can see for yourself what these birds look like and how they sound. Let’s start!

What Kind of Bird Sounds Like a Cat?

Gray catbird singing while perched on a branch

If you’re looking for a bird that sounds like a cat, then look no further than the gray catbird. Primarily, a catbird call is unmistakably similar to a feline’s meow, hence the name of this species.

Scientifically referred to as Dumetella carolinensis, gray catbirds belong to the Mimidae family, a group of songbirds. This means they are closely related to mockingbirds, tremblers, and thrashers.

Therefore, as their relatives do, you can anticipate that these birds are likely to have a talent for imitating other species’ sounds — typically combining them into melodies of their own.

Yet, you’ll hear it’s the “meowing” of the cat that gray catbirds copy most often.

Gray Catbird Song and Calls

For anyone who has yet to experience the gray catbird’s song and calls firsthand, this section is here to help. A few clips are provided below to give you a sense of why this cat-sounding bird is so popular.

First, here is a fascinating video of a gray catbird producing an eerie, meow-like sound as it eats:

Do Catbirds Meow? Listen and decide for yourself

Aside from delivering a cat-like sound, gray catbirds can sing a series of high-pitched, sharp whistles. Below is a short clip of one bird performing this:

Gray Catbird singing

Watch the following recording if you want to see more of the eating-while-meowing behavior of gray catbirds:

Meanwhile, a clip of a meowing grey catbird perched on a branch of a tree is shown below:

Listen to the Gray Catbird

On top of that, a singing gray catbird can be observed in the following video:

Gray Catbird singing

Finally, here is a compilation of some of the most common sounds that one gray catbird can produce, including chirping, singing, and meowing:

One bird makes dramatically different sounds | Gray Catbird singing and mewing call

In addition to all these clips, my team and I once recorded the gray catbird’s call at different times throughout the day. We found that it can sing for up to ten minutes without stopping, delivering around 90 syllables a minute.

12 Interesting Facts About the Gray Catbird

Gray catbird side profile

The gray catbird is not just a cute visitor to your bird feeder. Beneath its seemingly simple exterior, this cat-sounding bird is one of the most important avians in North America.

To give you an overview, here are 12 interesting facts about the gray catbird:

1. Mimicry Talents

Generally, the gray catbird possesses incredible mimicry talents. Much like its mockingbird relatives, it can imitate other birds and animals. Then, it will string together all the sounds it heard to create its own vocalizations.

2. Night Migration

Unlike many avian species, the gray catbird prefers to migrate at night. This nocturnal journey aids in avoiding predators, taking advantage of cooler temperatures, and conserving energy.

Specifically, gray catbirds begin their northbound migration in early April and complete it by mid-May. Meanwhile, they start their southbound migration in August, which will continue until October.

3. Co-parenting Method

Surprising as it may seem, both male and female gray catbirds share parenting duties. They equally contribute to nest building, incubating eggs, and feeding their chicks.

4. Unique Syrinx

The gray catbird’s syrinx, or vocal organ, is exceptionally intricate. This allows for a wide variety of sounds to be produced, including whistles, chirps, trills, and even cat-like meows.

5. Monogamous

Monogamy is a defining trait of gray catbirds. Once they form a pair, they generally stay together throughout the breeding season, which lasts from April through early August.

6. Can Recognize Their Own Eggs

Brood parasitism, where avians lay their eggs in another bird’s nest, can be tricky. However, the gray catbird can identify its eggs and will reject unfamiliar ones.

For instance, gray catbirds know when brown-headed cowbird eggs have been laid in their nest. They will then push these eggs out of the nest — and even attempt to eat them.

7. Omnivores and Frugivores

A versatile diet is key for gray catbirds. They consume insects and fruits, making them both omnivores and frugivores. This dietary flexibility ensures they have a steady food source all year round.

8. Shrub Dwellers

When looking for the gray catbird, aim your gaze downward. These birds that sound like cats are shrub dwellers, often seen in thickets and low vegetation.

9. Short Flights

Observing the gray catbird in motion, one might notice their preference for short flights. They’re often seen darting between shrubs rather than taking prolonged aerial trips.

10. Dull Plumage With a Flair

At first glance, the gray catbird might appear plain. However, a flash of brownish-orange can be seen beneath its tail feathers. This vibrant coloring helps it stand out in the trees and charm mates.

11. Distinctive Tail Behavior

One of the unique behaviors of gray catbirds is their tail movement. They frequently flick their rust-colored tails up, especially when they’re alert, agitated, or trying to attract a potential mate.

12. Insect Predators

While they eat various foods, gray catbirds are incredibly proficient at hunting insects. Their sharp vision and swift movements make them formidable insect predators.

Why Do Gray Catbirds Sound Like Cats?

Gray catbird cat sounding bird in the wild

As songbirds, gray catbirds are known to mimic sounds, much like their relatives — mockingbirds and thrashers. Sometimes, their imitative talent is so diverse they can even sound like frogs in addition to cats.

To be specific, these different styles of catbird calls are attributed to their complex syrinx, giving them exceptional control over their vocal tract.

Basically, mimicking various sounds, including the familiar “meow,” serves many purposes for the gray catbird, which includes distracting potential predators and attracting mates.

Are There Other Birds Sound Like a Cat?

While the gray catbird is famous for its cat-like calls, it’s not alone in the avian world in this distinction. There are other birds that sound like cats — and they’re all very different from each other.

For one, the haunting hoot of the great horned owl can sometimes resemble a distant feline’s meow, especially during quiet nights. The following video shows this type of owl meowing at nighttime:

Meowing Great Horned owl on our perch

The Hahn’s macaw, with its sharp vocalizations, might remind you of a kitten’s cry, too. Here is a clip of one making such a sound:

Parrots Meowing Like Cats

Cockatoos, well-known for their ability to imitate sounds from humans and other animals alike, are known to make similar noises to how cats meow. This video shows how they do so:

Cockatoo Meows Like a Cat

There’s also the aptly named green catbird, which, as its name suggests, delivers another layer of feline mimicry. Watch this clip to hear just how convincing it can be:

Meow! The call of the Green Catbird

What Bird Sounds Like a Cat in Distress?

If you’ve ever heard a bird that sounds eerily similar to a cat in distress, you might’ve encountered the green catbird.

While it shares the “catbird” name with the gray catbird, its call is notably different. More specifically, its vocalizations are sharper and more high-pitched than the mellow meow of its gray-colored counterpart.

At times, the green catbird’s unique call has even been compared to the sound of a crying baby.

Where Can You Find Gray Catbirds?

Gray catbird looking sideways

Gray catbirds have a wide natural range, predominantly calling North America their home. As temperatures drop, though, they migrate, seeking warmth in areas like Mexico and the Caribbean.

However, if you are really keen on locating these unique cat-sounding birds, set your sights on dense thickets and leafy trees, where they love to hide and sing.

They can also be found in vine-covered areas, forests near rivers and streams, open fields, and even along the fences of homes.

Different Types of Catbird Species

Generally speaking, catbirds, with their feline-resembling calls, are a fascinating group of birds spread across various parts of the world. They are usually found in tropical and subtropical areas where they feed on insects.

The following is a list of the different species of catbirds:

  • Gray catbird: Dwelling primarily in North America, the gray catbird is renowned for its meow-like sound. It is also one of the most commonly seen species of catbird. As their name indicates, they join the list of birds with gray plumage.
  • Black catbird: Besides the gray catbird, there is a second species of catbird belonging to the Mimidae family: the black catbird. It is exclusive to regions like Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize.
  • Spotted catbird: Hailing from the family Ptilonorhynchidae, the spotted catbird is uniquely Australian. Its white markings give it a distinctive appearance among its peers.
  • Green catbird: Also from the group Ptilonorhynchidae, the green catbird resides in Australia and Papua New Guinea. This bird stands out with its vibrant green hue as well as its unusual calls that resemble cats in distress.
  • White-eared catbird: Another member of the family Ptilonorhynchidae, the white-eared catbird’s habitat stretches across Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Its pale ear patches contrast with its body, making it easily identifiable.
  • Tooth-billed catbird: Also known as the stagemaker bowerbird, the tooth-billed catbird belongs to the Ptilonorhynchidae family. Endemic to Australia, this catbird is famous for its unique bill shape and intricate courtship rituals.
  • Abyssinian catbird: While it’s a babbler by classification, the Abyssinian catbird bears a resemblance to the gray catbird. However, note that it only thrives in the tropical regions of Ethiopia.

As shown above, catbird species are not closely related except those belonging to the bowerbird group. In fact, their territories do not even overlap at all. Yet, they have one thing in common: their meow-like calls.

For those who have encountered a gray catbird or any other animal with a similar call pattern, feel free to share your experience in the comments below!

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