The bird that sounds like a cat

By Bec Crew | May 15, 2015

A cousin of the bowerbird, the green catbird has a decidedly feline call

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Bec Crew

Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.

INTRODUCING A VERY PATIENT green catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris) having its leg ring updated in the Border Range National Park of New South Wales.

A member of the Australasian catbird genus, which includes four species spread throughout the tropical rainforests of Queensland, New South Wales, New Guinea, and Indonesia, these birds are known for the odd “wailing cat-like calls” they use to communicate with each other.

“The most distinctive song is a mewing cat-like growl, eye-yoo-yoo-yoo-yoo-yoo, which lasts two to three seconds, and is repeated at frequent intervals,” Australian ornithologist Peter Rowland says of the green catbird’s close relative, the spotted catbird (Ailuroedus melanotis). “Other vocalisations include a variety of drawn out cat-like wailings that fluctuate in pitch.”

Rather fittingly, the genus name, Ailuroedus, comes from a Greek word meaning ‘cat-singer’ or ‘cat-voiced”. You can hear the call of a catbird in Buderim, Queensland below, which the YouTuber who filmed it quite accurately describes as like a Siamese cat being backed over by an SUV:

Catbird is a cousin of the bowerbird

Australasian catbirds belong to the bowerbird family, Ptilonorhynchidae, and they’re cloaked in lovely emerald green plumage to keep them hidden in their lush rainforest homes. Each of the four species has a different take on the white speckles you can see in the image above, but they all have quite incredible, deep red irises.

Distinctly coloured eyes is a characteristic found in several of the best-known species of bowerbird: the regent bowerbird has golden irises to match the plumage on its wings, the satin bowerbird has beautiful violet irises in the males and royal blue in the females, and the flame bowerbird has banana-yellow irises to coordinate with its sunset colour scheme.

Unlike many other species of bowerbirds, however, the male green catbird isn’t interested in building a bower to impress the females. He basically just gets away with clearing a space on the forest floor in which he’ll show off a bunch of impressive and colourful objects he’s collected, such as flowers, fruits, leaves, holding them proudly in his beak in front of a female.

And even though he couldn’t even be bothered to build a structure out of sticks and foliage to prove his dexterity and attention to detail, if a male catbird is lucky enough to snag a female, he will have a mate for life. And the pair will call to each other like strangled cats at dawn and dusk until death do they part.