May 14 2012
Gray catbirds are mimics who sing whistles and squeaks and fragments of other birds’ songs. Their phrases are short syllables and single notes punctuated by uneven pauses and mewing cat sounds.
Catbirds are not good singers. However…
This month in Schenley Park there’s a catbird who must have taken singing lessons. His delivery is loud and confident. His phrases are longer and identifiable as bird song. I’ve heard him give good imitations of cardinals, robins, blue jays, eastern towhees, Carolina wrens and song sparrows. Song sparrows are hard for catbirds to mimic. I am amazed.
Ornithologists would be amazed too. Cornell’s Birds of North America says, “Laboratory evidence indicates that male [gray catbird] song results mostly from improvisation and invention, not via imitation.”
In other words, catbirds are jazz singers. But this particular bird is trying out for an opera career. He is so good I thought he was a brown thrasher until he sang from an exposed perch.
(photo by Shawn Collins)