E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Dumetella carolinensis (Linnaeus, 1766)
Gray Catbird
Family: Mimidae

Species account author: Jamie Fenneman
Photo of species

© Ryan Merrill  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #9429)

Distribution of Dumetella carolinensis in British Columbia.
(Click on the map to view a larger version.)
Source: Distribution map provided by Jamie Fenneman for E-Fauna BC

Species Information

The plumage is almost entirely dark slaty-grey, including most of the underparts, upperparts, head, wings, and relatively long, slender, rounded tail; the plumage is usually slightly paler grey on the face and breast and somewhat darker grey or blackish-grey towards the tips of the tail and flight feathers. The chestnut undertail coverts and black patch on the crown are the only portions of the plumage that are not dark grey. The iris is dark, the slender, pointed, very slightly downcurved bill is black, and the legs and feet are blackish or dark grey.

This plumage is held briefly during the first summer, but it lost by August. Juveniles are similar to the adults, but are overall duller and browner, with a greyer and less well-defined dark patch on the crown and paler and buffier undertail coverts. Some juveniles appear relatively plain brownish-grey or buffy-grey throughout the plumage. Bare part colouration is more or less similar to that of the adult, but there is extensive pink or yellowish-pink at the base of the bill and the legs and feet are slightly duller and browner.

Total Length: 21-22 cm
Mass: 23-56 g

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995); Sibley (2000)



This species is highly distinctive and it is unlikely that any species in British Columbia would present a significant identification concern.

The song is a slow, rambling series of notes and phrases that includes high, sharp chips, various squeaks, gurgles, whines, nasal sounds, and periodic mewing notes; the song may last up to 10 minutes, with little or no repetition throughout its length. This species does not incorporate mimicry into its songs as often as the related Northern Mockingbird. Singing frequently occurs during the night. The characteristic call note is a hoarse, cat-like, mewing mwee or meeurr that is similar to the mewing notes that are included in the song. Other calls include a loud, cracking kedekekek or chek-chek-chek-chek and a low, deep whurf or quirt that is reminiscent of the call of the Hermit Thrush but is somewhat softer.

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995); Sibley (2000)

Breeding Ecology

Pair formation occurs immediately after arrival on the breeding grounds. The male initiates courtship by fluffing up the feathers of the back and rump, spreading and depressing the tail, and holding the head either raised or lowered while moving along the ground or through vegetation in the vicinity of the female; the male often utters mewing calls during this display, and sometimes rocks the body from side to side or flicks the tail upwards. This species is a monogamous breeder, and the pair bond is maintained throughout the breeding season.

The nest is constructed over a period of 5-6 days and is constructed primarily by the female. The nest is a bulky (~14 cm wide and ~9 cm deep), open cup composed of coarse grasses, twigs, rootlets, weed stems, and leaves and lined with fine grasses, plant fibres, strips of bark, hair, and other soft materials; additional materials such as string, wool, cotton, or rags are also sometimes incorporated into the nest. It is usually well-concealed and is situated in a dense tangle or shrub at a height of 0.2-8 m (most nests between 1-2 m in height). Nests are very rarely placed on the ground or in a cavity.

This species is double-brooded in British Columbia, at least in the Okanagan Valley. The initial clutch of (1) 4-5 (6) eggs is laid between mid-May and mid-June (primarily early to mid-June in northern portions of its range) and is incubated by the female for 12-15 days before hatching. The smooth, glossy eggs are uniformly turquoise-green, rarely with few fine reddish speckles. Second clutches are laid between late June and mid-July. Eggs are present in B.C. between mid-May and early August. This species is an occasional host for Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism.

The young are fully altricial and largely naked, with blackish-grey skin and a few patches of dark grey or brownish down; the mouth is orange-yellow and the gape flanges are creamy-white. The young are tended by both parents for 11-15 days before fledging, after which time they remain with both parents for up to 12 days before dispersing and becoming independent. Nestlings and dependent fledglings are found in B.C. between mid-June and mid-August (primarily in July).

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995); Baicich and Harrison (1997); Campbell et al. (1997)
Foraging Ecology

This species feeds on both insects and small fruits on its breeding grounds, with fruits dominating the diet throughout the year except during the spring when they are generally unavailable. Most foraging occurs in dense shrubbery or at low levels in trees (particularly deciduous trees), and up to 50% of its time may be spent foraging on the ground; most foraging birds remain within relatively dense vegetation and are often difficult to observe. When foraging within vegetation, almost all insect prey are gleaned from the surfaces of leaves, twigs, or branches, although it occasionally engages in short sallies to capture flying insects. It commonly flicks aside leaves when foraging on the ground in order to access the invertebrates that are concealed beneath. Small fruits are generally plucked directly from the vegetation.

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995)


The Gray Catbird is characteristic of moist, dense brushy thickets and tangles, often in riparian areas such as along the shores of rivers, streams, lakes, and marshes. It also occurs in the brushy understory of open deciduous forests, hedgerows, aspen copses in grasslands and arid shrub-steppe habitats, brushy forest edges, rose thickets, and brushy gullies or draws. It will also nest in shrubby parks and gardens and in shrubs and brambles adjacent to orchards and other agricultural habitats.

Source: Cannings et al. (1987); Cimprich and Moore (1995); Campbell et al. (1997)


Global Range

Breeds from southern B.C. east across southern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south to northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and the Gulf Coast of the United States from eastern Texas to Florida; it is absent from most of the Pacific coast of the United States as well as the southwestern states. Winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S., north to New England, as well as in the Caribbean and from eastern Mexico south to Panama.
BC Distribution

Uncommon to fairly common throughout the southern interior of the province, from the Coast and Cascade Mountains east to the Rocky Mountains, ranging north to the Chilcotin area, Quesnel, and the Cariboo Mountains, as well as along the southern Rocky Mountain Trench and Rocky Mountain foothills north to Golden. It is also uncommon and local in the Lower Mainland (east to Hope, but largely absent from lowermost Fraser Valley), and is rare and local in the Peace River area of northeastern B.C. Recent extralimital breeding records have been documented north of the normal breeding range in the central interior (Bulkley Valley, McBride area).

Migration and Vagrancy
Spring migrants first begin to arrive in the southern interior in late April or early May (the earliest arrivals occurring in the Okanagan Valley), but the bulk of the population does not begin to arrive until mid-May; spring migrants reach northern portions of the breeding range (e.g., the Chilcotin area) by mid-May, with most of the population present by early June. Fall migrants begin to withdraw from the breeding grounds in late August and continue through early September, with occasional individuals lingering into late September or early October (rarely into November in the Lower Mainland).

Casual from spring through fall on Vancouver Island and along the coast of B.C. north of the Lower Mainland, north to the Skeena River. Casual in winter across southern B.C., including the south coast and southern interior.

Source: Campbell et al. (1997)


Population and Conservation Status

This species is relatively common across much of southern B.C. and populations appear to be stable, although the species is declining somewhat in eastern portions of its range. It is currently not recognized by either the B.C. Conservation Data Centre (CDC) or COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as a species of conservation concern.

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995)


This species is monotypic, with no recognized subspecies, although western populations (such as those breeding in B.C.) average slightly paler than eastern populations, particularly on the underparts.

Source: Cimprich and Moore (1995)

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS5BYellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-04-22 8:41:56 AM]
Disclaimer: The information contained in an E-Fauna BC atlas pages is derived from expert sources as cited (with permission) in each section. This information is scientifically based.  E-Fauna BC also acts as a portal to other sites via deep links.  As always, users should refer to the original sources for complete information.  E-Fauna BC is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the original information.

© E-Fauna BC 2021: An initiative of the Spatial Data Lab, Department of Geography, UBC