Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Mystery of the Wild Kittens

For the last two summers since moving here to our new home, I've heard a bird I haven't been able to identify. Oddly, the bird's call sounds uncannily like a kitten mewing in distress. All last summer, until I figured out it was a bird, I kept checking for stray kittens in every bush.

But the bird proved elusive and I wasn't able to either spot it or photograph it.

Then yesterday morning, I spotted our mystery bird and managed to get a distant photo.

I watched it for a few moments and noticed it had a "tippy" posture and tended to flick its tail. And undoubtedly, it was the source of that elusive "mewing kitten" call.

Here's the bird, cropped:

When I got home, I broke out my faithful bird books and looked it up. I finally realized it was ... a catbird.

From Peterson's Guide:

From the Golden guide:

Yes, a catbird. Thinking it was too "obvious" that a bird which sounded uncannily like a mewing kitten should be called a catbird, I found a YouTube video of a catbird call. By golly, that's the bird.

(Comically, the first comment below this video is someone who wrote: "Omg I just walked around my neighborhood like a weirdo looking for a kitten after hearing this same kind of bird!!!" Yeah, I know the feeling.)

So after all this time, the Mystery of the Wild Kittens is solved. A catbird sounds just like a kitten. Go figure.


  1. In western NY the Catbird is fairly common. My back yard is filled with a cacophony of sound in the morning. Most birds songs are common, but the variety is wonderful. I use a free Cornell Lab phone app called Merlin. It listens and identifies the various calls with references into their database. The app is a great way to learn the various bird calls.


    1. Ron,

      Thank you for this suggestion. My mother has an unidentified bird call she hears regularly in her new mountain home. I will suggest this app to her.


  2. We heard a kitten mew January 1. Didn't think anything of it. Then heard it again January 2. A beautiful, tiny kitten was in a pool of water in our trash can. I took him out, bathed him, fed him and brought him to the vet the next day. We couldn't love him more.

  3. Yep, cat birds spend the late winter/spring here... Sharing the mulberries with me☺

  4. You are always educating us and I love it ! But I'll always look for a kitten just in case. Have never seen or heard this bird.

  5. Several years ago now, we had a bottle kitten. Just after he reached the point where he could get through the night without a feeding, I moved his crate out of our bedroom…

    …only to wake up to frantic children and the sound of a kitten squalling in mortal distress. After tearing the house apart while severely scolding my daughters for letting the kitten out without me, the kitten was discovered securely asleep in my son’s armpit, and I realized we’d been chasing the call of a catbird…