“The weather has become fair. I had an oppertunity for the first time this spring to observe the song of the Cat bird, which tho not so sweet or so varied as that of the ground thrush (turdus rufus) is yet charmingly melodius. I have seen the Cat bird repeatedly this spring but it has always been mute.”
So wrote William Dunlap in his diary on May 31st, 1797: exactly two hundred and seventeen years, two months, and twelve days ago.
There were birders in the 1800s. I am, apparently, in good company.
What made this diary entry even more striking was the fact that a little less than a month ago, some two weeks past the date Dunlap sighted his cat bird, I, also, had an ‘oppertunity’ for the first time to observe the song of the Cat bird. Well– ‘oppertunity’ broadly speaking. I’d never seen a cat bird before in my life (and half the species in North America as well), so– first time for everything, really.
Their name seems to suggest a bird that has a distinctly comical feel to it– whiskers, perhaps, adorning its face– a squat bird, of a tabby-ish hue, that moves in short hops, being incapable of long flight due to its plumpness. So something like a cross between a cat, and a bird.
God, I’m creative.
However, it appears that the cat bird’s name is not derived from it looking something like a cat. In fact, seeing it for the first time, a cat would be the last thing that came to my mind. If I had to name it– perhaps the ‘blue mimid’. Something that pays tribute to the inherent elegance the bird has– the blue tint on its back– the grace with which it carries itself.
But, no. Some half-crazed naturalist wandering around North America decided to call it a cat bird. A grey cat bird, to be precise. And why? Because this elegant, graceful avian, had to miaow.
No, I’m serious. According to that guy, the cat bird had a tendency to intersperse its songs with miaows.
While the other birders I met said that they, in fact, had never heard the cat bird produce a sound remotely resembling a miaow, the poor bird is stuck with the name.
I was busy pitying the elegant, graceful, and (did I mention) elegant creature when, to my delight we stumbled upon a nest. Ah, here, I told myself, is an opportunity to compile an even greater list of the reasons while the cat bird does not deserve its unfortunate name.
Naturally, the male bird wasn’t very pleased to see us around the nest, so it tried to scare us off. This was a collosal mistake (not least because has anyone ever succeeded in deterring a group of birders with a mission?).
It started preening.
No, I’m serious. It flapped its wings, ruffled its feathers, shook its head more times than necessary, all in an effort to get us to go away.
I’m sorry, did I call this bird elegant? Graceful? Anything of the sort? No.
Yes, I understand your need to look immaculate. But if this is your attempt at looking fearsome– no. (To be fair, this might be me misunderstanding cat bird behavior. If you have any knowledge of cat birds, please stop reading now. I will probably horrify you before this post is up.)
Meanwhile, the female was looking less than impressed, as do most wives when their husbands make fools of themselves. While I did not have the chance to get to know her, I’m sure she is much more sophisticated than her male counterpart.
Well, Cat Bird. Well, well, well.
Don’t judge a bird by its feathers, is all I have to say.