Gray Catbirds – Diet, Lifespan, Symbolism, and Meaning

Catbird confronts cat statue
Gray catbirds are known for their cat-like sounds, but there’s more to know about these birds that mimic other birds and animals. They are brave little birds in the face of their enemies and can live 10 years or more if they outwit them. They symbolize several things, like embracing danger or facing dishonesty.

Catbirds belonging to the Mimidae family are gray songbirds that can mimic various other species. Gray catbirds are known for their cat-like sounds, but there’s more to learn about these birds. Check out their favorite foods and spiritual meaning below.

Identifying The Gray Catbird

The gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is a medium-sized North and Central American bird that you’ll recognize by its gray body with a black cap and rusty-colored undertail. It’s similar to the northern mockingbird, as it’s their relative. This bird is also in the same family (Mimidae) as thrashers, sharing the vocal prowess of songbirds.

Gray catbirds sing well, but they are usually recognizable by their mewing calls, similar to domestic cats. You may notice them around dense shrubs or tiny trees, where they build their nests.

These are migratory birds, so most will leave for Mexico or the Caribbean for winter. There is so much more to know about these birds, and today, you’ll learn more about their habitat, diet, and meaning.

Catbird on fence

Gray Catbird Habitat

This bird species is usually found in North America, east of the Rocky Mountains. Some vagrants might stay in the western part of the American Cordillera. They have been found in 46 of the 50 states but are most plentiful in the East and Midwest.

They spend the summer in the area and then migrate to Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean for the winter. Some reside along the Atlantic coastline all year.

Gray catbirds will avoid dense woodlands as well as coniferous forests. Instead, they’ll visit dense vegetation, especially if it’s thorny. They also like abandoned farmland and orchards.

The Gray Catbird Lifespan

This bird species can live up to 10 years if they’re lucky to avoid local predators. They usually hide in dense shrubs and raise broods high on small trees.

Still, they’re not afraid of predators. Instead, they’ll try to fight off any that come around. Gray catbirds are extra feisty when they defend their nests — both males and females will protect their young.

Unfortunately, young catbirds are frequently killed off by predators, especially house cats. Studies show that these fledglings have nearly an 80% chance of dying in the first year, which makes the average lifespan of the species as low as 2.5 years.

The longevity hero among gray catbirds is one from Mayland who was banded as a fledgling and found thriving 18 years later!

Catbird eats fruit

What Do Gray Catbirds Eat?

Catbirds especially love berry-rich thickets. It’s a bonus if these are located near a water source.

Generally, catbirds are considered carnivores and herbivores. They’ll eat the following insects: ants, beetles, caterpillars, flies, and moths.

Any of these berries are also often on their menu: holly berries, cherries, elderberries, poison ivy, bay, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Gray catbirds often annoy gardeners by piercing fruit but not finishing it.

They are also known to eat peanuts, sunflower kernels, roasted peanuts, and soy. Like many birds, they enjoy oranges and grape jelly, but little gourmets will eat peanut butter and soaked raisins. Sometimes, they’ll consume uncommon foods like cornflakes, boiled potatoes, cheese, and even donuts.

What Does A Gray Catbird Symbolize?

For a plain gray bird, the catbird has plenty of symbolism attached to it.

Catbirds are ironically named for and can sound like one of their biggest enemies, the house cat. Outdoor and feral cats take some blame for the declining bird population, as they are a major killer of baby catbirds and other fledgling birds. But, more mature catbirds are intrepid in the face of danger, and they respond to it by mimicking their enemies.

A catbird has come to symbolize facing your fears and embracing danger.

Catbirds are winners. To “sit in the catbird seat” means to “sit in the best seat in the house.”

There are many other meanings for catbirds.

Gray carbird - full of symbolism

Spiritual Meaning of Gray Catbirds

In Native American tradition, catbirds are connected with messages and considered bearers of good news, like bluebirds. On the other hand, some believe that seeing a catbird means someone’s dishonesty.

In Christianity, catbirds are associated with deceit and dishonesty.

In Celtic culture, they’re connected with the banshee, which is a symbol of death and mourning.

Seeing a catbird in a dream and hearing its mewing call can mean many things.

You may be pretending to be something you’re not, which could hurt you along the way. Catbirds in a dream may also symbolize the need to express yourself. Furthermore, these birds are interesting to connect with in a spiritual sense.

Overall, the catbird spirit animal is connected to creative and sensitive souls.

Catbirds have a curious and guiding presence. Still, it’s believed that people with catbirds as spirit animals come with many paradoxes. They’ll adapt to fit their social circle yet have very few true friendships.


Mileva has a passion for writing and she loves to share her thoughts in all forms. Observing wildlife — birds and other untamed animals soothes her soul. This is why you’ll often find her staring at the closest forest, looking for inspiration for her next article.

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