I was in northern California in a restored meadow very rich with green grass, dense thick willows and alders and I heard for the first time at this location a gray catbird which was an uncommon sound in California in general and not only was I hearing a gray catbird but I was hearing an incredible catbird, a bird that mimicked to a degree I’d never ever experienced before. Occasionally you’ll hear a mimic phrase in the middle of a song out of a catbird, but normally it’s just nondescript warbling that’s taking place. Very rich songs but mostly you can’t identify anything other than catbird vocalizations. In contrast this bird was giving really fine imitations of a whole host of different species. In order to fully appreciate the ability of a particular mimic of an individual as it as it mimics an advanced knowledge of wildlife sounds really helps you tune in to what this animal is doing this bird was mimicking a sora rail, beautiful song out of Western wood pewee, Wilson snipe, and even a pacific tree frog. Really spectacular. The theory as to why these mimics imitate other species is that the male with the greatest repertoire is demonstrating to potential mates, to females, that he’s been around, that he through his extensive repertoire has survived many breeding seasons. So the longer you’ve been around, the more phrases you’re able to mimic.

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The Gray Catbird is able to mimic the vocalizations of several other birds, and even other animals. Males with the most variety of sounds may be the most attractive to females because large repertoires demonstrate they have already survived many breeding seasons. Listen to a Gray Catbird with a particularly extensive repertoire—he even samples sounds from a Pacific chorus frog.

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