08.18.19: Catbird on plant

A Gray Catbird poses on a plant in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.


Technical information

July 8, 2017, 
8:45 a.m.

40°6'46.308" N 82°57'29.597" W
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Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1000th second


I guess this is a story about how my many hours hiking in search of wildlife to photograph have conditioned me to link specific sounds to specific animals.

A few months ago I was hiking through a field near the edge of a forest when I heard something that sounded like a cat mewing in the underbrush. “Gray Catbird,” I told myself, then turned the camera toward the sound in hopes of getting a shot of the catbird if it popped to the top of a plant.

A few minutes later, the source of the sound appeared. It was a cat that had been roaming the field, likely looking for birds. According to a study released in 2013, cats living in the wild or indoor cats that roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the United States each year. That’s a huge concern for those who track bird populations or manage wildlife sanctuaries.

I would have much preferred that the sound I heard have been a Gray Catbird. And the fact that I mistook the sound of a real cat for a bird demonstrates just how much the catbird sounds like the real thing.

I photographed this catbird in 2017 perched quietly on a plant in a field. A quiet moment is a rarity for this species.

Catbirds are named for the catlike mewing sound they make, but that’s just a small part of the bird’s repertoire. Gray Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and share many of a mockingbird’s singing abilities. Like a mockingbird, a catbird can copy parts of songs from other bird species and string them together to create its own song. And those songs can be lengthy, at times lasting up to 10 minutes.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.