Gray Catbird

Dumetella carolinensis
Range Map

Normally absent from the southwestern corner of the USA, these birds breed over most of the lower forty-eight and into southern Canada. They spend winters on the Atlantic Seaboard south through New England and around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

This member of the thrasher clan can, like its cousins, mimic other bird songs and incorporate them into their own vocal offerings. The genus Dumetella, from the Latin dūmus meaning “thorny thicket” means “small bird of the thorn bushes”. It is a well-suited name to describe the lifestyle enjoyed by these birds. Even while singing, the Gray Catbird prefers not the prominent perches one might expect, but concealing itself within the thickets, they issue their melodic songs.

Science recognises two subspecies of Gray Catbird:

  • D. c. carolinensis breeds from southeastern Manitoba to Nova Scotia (Canada) and south to eastern Texas and central Florida. They spend winters along the Gulf of Mexico in the southeastern USA, the Caribbean, and on the Atlantic slope of Central America south to Panama.
  • D. c. ruficrissa breeds from British Columbia east to south-central Manitoba and south to northeastern Oregon, northern Utah, and New Mexico, east to North Dakota, south to western Oklahoma and Texas. They spend winters in Cuba, on northwestern Caribbean islands, and in eastern Mexico.

The first Gray Catbird I met was a stray bird in my southern California hometown. I didn’t get a picture though. The first one I photographed was in Utah at Willard Bay State Park, north of Salt Lake City, while in the company of fellow photographers Jerry Goffe and Joe Ford. It wasn’t until I visited south Texas in the spring of 2020 that I could spend quality time with this species, and appreciate their personalities. I learned their lifestyle was well-suited to my preferred sit-and-wait method of photography. By patiently sitting still, and allowing the birds to become comfortable with my presence, they would leave their concealed places and approach me while I captured their images.

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