Gray Catbird


This Gray Catbird eats prickly pear cactus in California. Maybe I should try putting out mangoes.

The afternoon stroll down to Quebrada La Loca brought hardly any birds yesterday. This seems to be often the case, but then come the surprises. This time it was the migrant Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), which I found myself seeing clearly for only the third time in my life. Actually, it had been skulking in the same thicket the day before but afforded me only the tiniest of glimpses in dark shade. I had seen all grey and a black cap and I knew it was a new bird for the area but first impression was that it was the Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush (Catharus fuscata) or perhaps even the Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops), both of which are possible here. However, though both are black-faced, neither has a black cap. I did not connect a mewing sound, heard a few minutes later but higher up in the trees, because I imagined it to be the Tropical Gnatcatcher, in recent years fairly common here.

I hear the famously beautiful high whistling song of the solitaire most days because neighbours have one in a cage but I have yet to find one here. The locals still capture them at the first opportunity. The nightingale-thrush would more likely be hopping around on the ground but it was not until I arrived back home and consulted the guide that I considered the likelihood of a catbird. Guide Jorge Fernandez Aguilar, who lives in the village, mentioned a sighting of it at his house on the Rio Guayabito at the bottom end of the village a couple of years back. Now the mewing clicked in and I realized that the gnatcatcher’s mew is much lighter in tone. I was able to confirm this from audio recordings.

What joy then, yesterday, when, in the exact same location, the catbird popped into view next to a cute little Common Tody-flycatcher. This time the bird stayed in view for a good 20 seconds or more and I was able to note the field marks clearly, especially the rufous vent. Was mewing in my garden yesterday morning also the same catbird? We have the habitat, which may cause Orange-billed Nightingale-thrushes (Catharus aurantiirostris) to nest in the garden this year, since for the first time I found two together yesterday morning close to the mewing. Let’s hope local cats stay away!

What a beauty!  Courtesy of Karel Straatman.

What a beauty! Courtesy of Karel Straatman.

Other notable (and almost the only!) birds on this little jaunt were the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), gobbling down little black berries, and the Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias), the latter gliding beautifully downstream with the orange ‘suns’ on its wings in full view.

As an aside, there are reports in the village of a small flock of Red-fronted Parrotlets (Touit costaricensis), a species I have never seen, and also of a pair of White-collared Seedeaters (Sporophila torqueola). In the case of the parrotlet, my informant told me he wanted to catch one to put in a cage, while the seedeater is a species that, precisely because of the caged bird trade, has not been seen regularly in the village for many years.

My very best thanks to Linda Tanner for the use of her beautiful photo of the Gray Catbird. Does anybody have one taken here in Costa Rica?

3 thoughts on “Gray Catbird

  1. hi paul, no catbird photo taken in CR but in the selection 2009 you will find under 246 an orange-billed nightingale thrush , have a nice time, karel


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