The Black Catbird

In the order of Passiformes is a unique family exclusively of the new world called "Mimidae". The Mimidae consist of the Mockingbird, Thrashers and Catbirds. This week's bird of the week is known as Durnetellas galbriroslris or the Black Catbird.

The Catbird looks like a small grackle. It has the same blue-black plumage, but grackles have yellow eyes and walk with powerful legs and big feet. Catbirds have amber eyes, hop on skinny legs and have classic passiforme feet.

They are known to exist only in a small part of Central America that includes northern Belize and Ambergris Caye. They are considered rare and I suspect will be increasingly so. Their food source and habitat is rapidly disappearing.

The Black Catbirds depend on the thick brush and hedge at sea level to provide them with a diet of seeds. berries and wild fruits. The uniqueness of the family is that many of its members. such as the Catbird, have the ability to mimic sounds they hear.

A friend and I recently had an encounter with one. I don't normally associate with alley cats for the obvious reason. but Ray is an exception. He keeps to himself, speaks when spoken to, doesn't smell bad - that sort of thing.

Yesterday afternoon, while visiting with him, I noticed he seemed nervous about a blackbird perching in the seagrape tree. He was pacing and couldn't keep his eyes off the tree. Unusual for a guy like Ray, but he seemed to be afraid of a bird! Even inside the house he stared out the window.

We walked outside for a drink from his howl. The Catbird flew down, quickly perched on the porch rail above him, aimed his red eye at Ray and made a startling "meow" sound. This completely undid Ray who bolted for protection under the steps. The Catbird seemed pleased with himself and enjoyed water from the bowl, undisturbed, before flying away.

Catbirds can- be- extremely tame, however, territorial aggression, at times, may take the form of physical attacks on invaders- such as dogs, cats and even humans. Mimicry can he a form of intimidation. In Ray's case, the Catbird has his number and just decided to spook him. However, I wouldn't doubt part of Ray's fear is from a previous peck on the head.

The Catbird's vocal repertoire is extremely varied and I would not attempt to describe it here, but it is capable of warbling song, clicks, clucks, buzzes, and of course meows! I read its nests are a bulky cup of twigs and grass. It produces two greenish-blue eggs yearly. Nesting is done in dense bush and small trees, replacing its loss of habitat with shrubs and berry producing brush in the landscapes of human developments will help this unusual species survive.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

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