Summer berries and Catbirds in the hedgerow

Our maturing hedgerow is becoming ideal bird habitat. As it fills in, it provides cover and nesting locations. It also has lots of fruit and insects to offer, which are important foods for our feathered guests. This year, the hedgerow even attracted a new bird species to our yard.

Gray Catbirds

In August, I began spotting a shy bird about the size of a Cardinal or Robin. It was always lurking in the shadows of shrub and tree foliage, so it was difficult to see its colour or any distinctive markings. Finally, it donned on me that it was a Gray Catbird — a very plain, shadowy bird indeed! If you look carefully (below), you can see it does have a darker cap, and a brownish patch under its tail. Our identification was certain once we heard its croaky, mewing call that it is named after.

A Gray Catbird hanging out in the Lilacs waiting for a turn to bathe in the stream.

We eventually realized we had 3 Gray Catbirds in the yard. I’m not sure if they were early migrants or were taking up residence to feed hungry juveniles. They were here for at least three weeks.

Hedgerow feast

According to the Cornell University Ornithology Lab’s All About Birds, and the Audubon Society, Gray Catbirds live in dense tangles of shrubs, vines and small trees — just like our backyard hedgerow. I’m trilled to have successfully created a home for them in urban Ottawa. Like I always say, “plant it and they will come.”

Gray Catbirds eat insects and berries, which is why they enjoyed the hedgerow. The native shrubs are host plants for hundreds of kinds of moths and butterflies; their caterpillars are an important bird food, especially for baby birds. Many of the shrubs also produce berries. We watched the Catbirds eating berries from a Serviceberry tree, Gray and Red Osier Dogwoods, and American Elderberry shrubs.

Berry clusters still on a Red Osier Dogwood in the front yard, in the fall.
A Gray Catbird eating berries in a Gray Dogwood bush. This shrub is part of a younger hedgerow we planted last year along our neighbours’ new fence.
With the cool spring and early summer, few pollinators visited the Elderberry flowers, so we had a mediocre crop on our 3 shrubs. The Catbirds quickly ate them all.
Some kind of wild cherry, possibly Chokecherry, that has been growing and suckering along the back fence for years. Apparently, Catbirds also enjoy these berries.

Hunting for insects

Two Catbirds, possibly juveniles, looking for insects below in the pots of seedlings I still hadn’t planted yet.
Taking a closer look at the pots of plants.

Many native perennials are host plants for moths and butterflies. My Wild Lupine seedlings, that were still sitting in pots, must have been very tasty because we found several kinds of caterpillars eating the leaves. The Catbirds were probably checking out my little potted plants because they housed soft, protein-packed snacks.

A Painted Lady caterpillar on Wild Lupine leaves.
An identified, furry caterpillar also eating Wild Lupine leaves.

The Catbirds also looked for insects in the vegetable garden I created in front of the hedgerow.

A Catbird eyeing me suspiciously from the tomato plants. Maybe it was eating Tomato Hornworm caterpillars. Thanks for the help!

I hope these entertaining Catbird guests return to our backyard bed and breakfast again next year.

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