October 2016

Vol. 44, No. 5

Field Note: Catbird Fights Image in Car Windshield

William E. Davis, Jr.

Figure 1. The catbird pecking at its image. Note the reflected image of its bill on the windshield. All photographs by the author.

On February 22, 2016, my wife and I were picnicking at Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys. As we sat at a table next to our car I noticed a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) perched on the top of our car. It had been flying around from shrub to shrub suggesting that it was unhappy with our presence. In winter, male and female catbirds defend separate territories and this bird was probably on territory. It soon flew down and perched on the windshield wiper facing the windshield. It proceeded to peck at its image reflected from the windshield (Figure 1) and several times launched itself feet-first in a full attack of its image (Figure 2). This continued for seven to eight minutes until a passing car prompted it to fly off.

The Birds of North America species account (Cimprich and Moore 1995, p. 6) describes the “Head-forward Display,” an agonistic display, in which the bird’s head is thrust forward, with bill open, at the rival, and often the feathers are fluffed. In Figure 3, the bill is open as the bird initiates an attack of its image, and, in Figure 4, some fluffing of the feathers is indicated. Interestingly the species account also states that, “Gray Catbirds are not reported to strike one another during conflicts….” This Catbird did strike its image as witnessed in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Feet-first full attack of the reflected image by the catbird. Note the contact of the feet with the image.

Figure 3. Catbird pecks at its image with bill open.

Figure 4. Some fluffing of feathers is indicated as catbird attacks its image.

Birds fighting their reflection has been reported for many species of birds (e.g., Davis 1999, 2012) but is not mentioned in the Cimprich and Moore species account of the Gray Catbird. This suggests to me that this behavior is likely under-reported.


  • Cimprich, D. A., and F. R. Moore. 1995. Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 167 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Davis, W. E. Jr. 1999. Red-eyed Vireos attack their images. Bird Observer 27: 194-196.
  • Davis, W. E. Jr. 2012. Northern Cardinal attacks its reflected image. Bird Observer 40: 149-152.

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