- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular summer resident and migrant throughout the state; occasionally birds linger into the winter months at bird feeders. The Gray Catbird was an abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Broadly distributed across southern Canada, the eastern United States, and the northern Great Plains, the Gray Catbird’s breeding range stretches west to eastern Washington and Oregon in the north and northern Arizona and New Mexico in the south. The core of the species’ breeding range is in the north-central and northeastern United States, from eastern Minnesota and Iowa east across the Great Lakes to the northern Appalachian Mountains (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short- to medium-distance migrant that winters in the southern United States and in Central America.
A ground feeder and foliage gleaner that consumes both insects and fruit.
An open-cup nest usually placed in shrubs.
In the early 1900s, Roberts (1932) considered the Gray Catbird a common summer resident statewide, though most common in abundance south of the northern forests. It could be found “in all the wooded portions of the state, including the scattered native groves and timber-claims of the prairie regions.” Further north, “in the poplar groves and brush-lands of the northwestern counties, it is equally common up to the Canadian boundary.” Although it was “well represented” in the northern forest regions, it was not an abundant species. Nesting was confirmed or inferred in 7 counties: Goodhue, Hennepin, Itasca, Marshall, Polk, Rock, and Stearns.
Little had changed 40 years later, when Green and Janssen (1975) published their updated account of the species. Although the Gray Catbird was still distributed across the state, they noted that in northern Minnesota it was largely confined to brushy openings in the region’s extensively forested landscape. A few years later, Janssen (1987) identified 37 counties where nesting had been documented since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added an additional 12 counties to the list.
From the late 1980s through 2014, the Minnesota Biological Survey documented a total of 1,430 breeding season locations for the Gray Catbird. Observations were least numerous in the eastern half of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province and in the intensively cultivated regions of the Red River valley and the upper Minnesota River valley (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
MNBBA participants reported 4,422 Gray Catbird records in 49.7% (2,361/4,752) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 66.8% (1,562/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was confirmed in 368 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was observed in all 87 Minnesota counties and was confirmed breeding in 78 counties. Of these, 32 counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998). Least abundant from Koochiching County east across northern St. Louis County and throughout Lake and Cook Counties, the Gray Catbird was most abundant in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province and in the southern half of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.
MNBBA data were used to generate a model predicting the relative abundance of the Gray Catbird across the state (Figure 4). The highest breeding densities were predicted in the river valleys of southeastern Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities metropolitan region in the Anoka Sand Plain Subsection, and north along the prairie-forest border extending to the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province near the Canadian border. The Gray Catbird is predicted to be moderately abundant throughout the Prairie Parkland and Eastern Broadleaf Forest provinces and throughout much of the southern and western regions of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. Densities decrease moving east through the northern forests. One notable exception is the area of the Ham Lake fire, where more than 75,000 acres burned in 2007 at the northern end of the Gunflint Trail.
Overall, the statewide distribution of the Gray Catbird has changed little in the past one hundred years. Across the state’s broad agricultural landscape, the primary breeding opportunities are provided by shelterbelts, woodlots, and riparian corridors. While the species remains least common in the northeastern region, suitable habitat created by residential development in the western and southern portions of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province likely provides more habitat for the catbird than was available in the early 1900s.
In their comprehensive review of the species, Smith and his colleagues noted that no significant changes have been documented in the Gray Catbird’s breeding distribution (Smith et al. 2011). Nonetheless, this shrub-loving species likely benefitted from the wide-scale clearing of the eastern deciduous forest in the 1800s and early 1900s (Cadman et al. 2007).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.