Bird Notes | Thickets alive with calls of gray catbirds

The gray catbird is a common skulker of the shadows in our area.
The gray catbird is a common skulker of the shadows in our area. For The Sun News

There are great birds to be found in our area year-round, and some exceptionally wonderful species grace the area during breeding season.

Among my favorite species are the gray catbirds. Members of the group known as mimic thrushes for their abilities to imitate a variety of sounds, the eastern members of that group include northern mockingbird, brown thrasher and the gray catbird. Somewhat shy by nature, catbirds are more often heard than seen, their namesake call emanating from the depths of dense, shrubby thickets where the birds prefer to skulk among the shadows. Their proper name, Dumetella carolinensis, translates appropriately as “the little one of the thickets (or thorns) of Carolina.”

Despite their preference for abiding in the shadows, catbirds can be surprisingly bold in taking advantage of available food items including suet, fruit, grape jelly and dried mealworms. They can become quite confiding in individuals with which they become familiar, often feeding within a few feet of a nearby individual who remains motionless.

Many other great birds may currently be seen in our area as the breeding season continues in full swing. Painted buntings may be seen at the feeders adjacent to Huntington Beach State Park’s nature center. A few also may be found in the area of the marsh boardwalk at Vereen Memorial Gardens in Little River.

If you’ve never seen one of these amazingly beautiful little birds, I encourage you to make it a point to do so before they completely disappear from the area. Our coastal race is currently considered a Species of Concern as its population numbers are in a state of decline. The primary reason for their dwindling numbers is loss of appropriate habitat. Painted buntings prefer what’s known as maritime shrub-scrub habitat, brushy thickets adjacent to marsh areas. As appropriate habitat disappears to provide views of marsh areas, so does this amazingly beautiful little bird.

Least terns also can currently be found in our area. The smallest North American tern, the species is listed as State Threatened in South Carolina due to loss/disturbance of breeding habitat. Least terns normally nest in small depressions above the high-tide line on beaches, but continual human disturbance has negatively impacted their ability to reproduce. Some have adapted to using commercial rooftops, and colonies have developed at some sites in the area. During the season, they can be found plying their trade in the surf as well as on lakes and stormwater retention ponds in the area.

Reach GARY PHILLIPS at 248-4595 or