May 14 2012


Published by at 6:30 am under Schenley Park,Songbirds

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.

A virtuoso!

(photo by Shawn Collins)

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Virtuoso”

  1. Kathy Detweileron 14 May 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I saw my first one last week. Love these guys!

  2. Steve-oon 14 May 2012 at 12:59 pm

    This is interesting because I have some Scaled Quail that visit my feeder and don’t act how everyone says that they should. Cornell, Sibley, Stokes and Wikipedia all say that they don’t care to fly. That they actually choose to run away from threats rather than flying. But 2 of the ones that visit our yard will fly from our back wall for about 100 yards or more; all the way over a 4-lane road and into the arroyo.
    I guess individuals don’t make the group.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 14 May 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Steve-o, I think your Scaled Quail have learned that walking across such a wide road is dangerous. Good for them! Often birds/animals/children don’t understand cars & they end up dead.

  4. anne marieon 14 May 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Unbelievable — I just saw my first one on Saturday too! Kate – I don’t know how you do it but you always seem to blog about the perfect subject! Thanks!

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