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Plate XVII
[Dumetella carolinsus-Gray Catbird]
The Catbird is a resident from April 15th to October the 1st. During this time they hatch one and sometimes two broods. The first nest is usually completed early in May, though building is often delayed until June. The second set of eggs is deposited in July.

In the country they build alike in the wildest woods and the most cultivated districts, occupying any bush or tree that is accessible. Thickets along rivers, creeks, canals, and ponds, as well as brier patches and thick clumps of bushes along roads and about the outskirts of timber-land, are the most frequented localities. In the towns they are nearly as abundant as in the country; the bushes and low trees of the garden and lawn, together with the shade-trees of the streets, affording plenty of nesting sites.

The nest, when situated in a bush, is usually supported beneath and at the sides by a number of stems. Its irregular exterior has numerous projecting sticks, which rest upon the small twigs, and often interlace with them, so that a great degree of security is obtained. Sometimes the materials of the foundation are so interwoven with the branches or twigs which sustain it, that it is impossible to remove the nest without tearing it from its supports. The nest, when built in a tree, is either in a horizontal or perpendicular fork formed by limbs which may be three or four inches in diameter, though usually much smaller, and is supported about the circumference by branches or twigs; or is saddled upon a large limb, or a number of small ones, and otherwise supported as when in a fork. Its distance from the ground when in a bush is commonly about three or four feet, when in a tree it rarely exceeds ten feet, though I have seen one nest in a pear tree over thirty feet high.

The foundation of the average nest consists of dead twigs of the various trees and weeds in the neighborhood, from a sixteenth to a quarter of an inch in diameter, and often a foot and a half long. The coarsest material is in the first part of the foundation, and as the work progresses smaller and shorter twigs are employed. The superstructure is composed of similar but finer material, together with dried leaves, bark and tendrils of grapevine, and rootlets. Grapevine-bark in long strips is often used in abundance, and so woven and braided together as to form a basket, of considerable strength. The lining is made of light-colored and dark brown or black rootlets, thickly matted together and extending to the rim. About towns and farm-houses, strings, rags, paper, wool, cotton, feathers and like substances are sometimes appropriated; and when suitable rootlets can not be had, grasses and downy weed-fibres are employed for the lining. The external dimensions of the nest are exceedingly variable; the neatest and smallest structures are built in the forks of trees and bushes; the largest and roughest in briers or scraggy bushes, where an entanglement of the foundation with the stems is necessary for a support. The average of nests in the former position is between five and six inches in external diameter, by four deep. In the latter position they frequently measure eight to twelve inches in diameter, by six deep. The diameter of cavity averages about three and one-fourth, the depth two and one-half inches; from this they rarely vary half an inch.

The complement of the first set consists of four or five eggs; the second, of two or three. They are dark green in color, and average .95 x .69. They seldom measure less than .88 or more than 1.05 in long diameter, or less than .60 or more than .75 in short diameter. Rarely white eggs are found.

If the color of the egg is once fixed in the mind, no difficulty will ever occur in identifying them, as the color is very uniform and entirely different from that of any other egg, not only of this State but of entire North America. The nest may always be recognized by its size and materials.

The drawing on PLATE XVII was made from a nest built the third week in May, 1878. Its foundation is composed of twigs of oak, weed-stems, and slender pieces of grapevine. The superstructure consists largely of grapevine-bark; the lining is of rootlets. It represents the average size and position.

Owing to a popular prejudice, the Catbird is much persecuted; they have the reputation of sucking eggs and killing the young of other birds, besides stealing the berries and fruit of the garden. How the first accusation was started, and the cause of its wide-spread dissemination, it is difficult to determine; so far as I am aware, the evidence is all circumstantial. The cry of the bird is so like the animal after which it is named, that the association is not at all calculated to give it character; and where the Catbird is most observed during the nesting-season the Blue Jay is so abundant that I am inclined to the opinion that the sins of the latter have been shouldered upon the former. That the Catbird frequents the cherry-trees and berry-bushes, and uninvited helps himself to the fruit, can not be denied, nor can it be gainsayed that this loss is more than compensated by the amount of worms and insects destroyed. It would hardly be justice to this much-abused Thrush to pass him by without some mention of his song, for of all our singing birds, save one, there is none that can excel him in variety and combination of notes, though it must be admitted that they are at times very harsh and unpleasant. There is, however, great difference in individuals; some have not only a song peculiar to their species, but also mimic unexceptionably the birds by which they are surrounded. A Catbird which some years since built for several seasons in the yard of a friend, so excelled as a vocalist and mimic, that he attracted the attention and admiration of the whole neighborhood. At intervals throughout the day, from a favorite perch upon a pear-tree, he would drop his tail and wings, loosen his feathers until they seemed to stand almost on end, and assuming a comical, semi-quizzical look, pour forth volumes of as pure notes as ever came from a feathery throat. But it was in the early morning and late evening that he made his best efforts. After the sun had gone down, and the western heavens were aglow with soft red light, he seemed in his happiest mood. At such a time, seated upon his favorite limb, he commanded the attention of a large audience, which lie would first please, then astonish, then disappoint, then enrapture, then amuse, and finally, just as twilight was fading into night, as if it was a fitting tail-piece to his opera-bouffe, he would convulse his hearers with laughter by mimicking the crow of a young cochin rooster confined in a coop near by; after which he would suddenly drop from the tree to the bushes beneath, where his mate sat upon the nest. In the Spring of 1873 he failed to return, to the great disappointment of many friends.