The name “catbird” applies to a few different groups of songbirds. Although they are unrelated, the birds that belong to these groups have earned their names on account of their distinctive cat-like voices. There are four groups designated as catbirds, with over a dozen individual species of catbirds contained in these groups.
The largest group, belonging to the Australasian branch of the catbirds, the genus Ailuroedus, consists of impressive mimics belonging to the bowerbird family. Bowerbirds, named for the impressive bowers that they construct, are famous for their unique ability to uncannily mimic the sounds of their environment, including human speech. (1)
The New World catbirds include the most common catbird in North America, the gray catbird. This bird and its somewhat distant relative, the black catbird, both belong to the family Mimidae. This is the family to which the ubiquitous mockingbird belongs.
While the name “catbird” may evoke mental images of whimsical hybridized creatures, the birds possessing this moniker are not confined to the pages of a storybook. Instead, they are inquisitive and intelligent members of the animal kingdom, with unique and compelling abilities. Oddly, though the catbird groups are unrelated, they seem to share a similar set of personality traits. Curiosity, ingenuity, and opportunism are characteristics that align nicely with each catbird species. Perhaps these traits are essential to mimics, or perhaps it takes a special kind of bird to take on the traits of a feline.
Catbird Symbolism and Meaning
Catbirds are synonymous with mimicry and often associated with cats themselves, on account of the mewing cry that designates these birds as catbirds. Upon examination of the many possible symbolic meanings for catbirds, one thing stands out consistently. This is the evident oxymoron of the catbird name.
Though not exactly opposites, cats and birds are often thought of as diametrically opposed. This is generally for good reason. Cats prey upon birds so regularly, in fact, that cats are beginning to be thought of as partially responsible for declining populations of certain bird species, and even perhaps as a serious threat to the biodiversity of this planet. Of course, this is only true of cats that are free to prey upon birds at will, such as feral or outdoor cats. (2)
So, for a bird to hold the moniker of “catbird” symbolizes the idea of facing one’s fears, of embracing danger and adapting to it. Not only do catbirds share their name with cats, they also mimic their sounds. To mimic the sounds of one’s greatest predators implies a great deal of courage and pluck.
Additionally, there is an old idiom referring to catbirds. To “sit in the catbird seat” is synonymous with “sitting pretty” or having the “best seat in the house.” This is thought to be a result of the tendency of certain catbird species to seek out high perches from which to sing. (3)
Although catbirds themselves scarcely appear in specific cultural traditions, the concept of mimicry is deeply connected to these birds and has an interesting place in a variety of cultures.
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Catbird Native American Symbolism
Catbirds, in some Native American traditions, are associated with messages. They are thought to be spirit messengers and bearers of good news.
Catbird Christianity Symbolism
The mimicry employed by catbirds associates them, in some Christian traditions, with dishonesty and deceit.
Catbird Celtic Symbolism
Curiously, the catbird shares many traits with the Celtic concept of the banshee. This will be explored more in the mythology section, but suffice it to say that banshees are symbolic of death and mourning.
Catbird in Dreams
Dreaming of catbirds may indicate a number of things. Often, the only thing that identifies a catbird in a dream is that distinctive meow-like cry. Dreaming of a bird that mews like a cat can mean lots of different things depending on the context of the dream and the dreamer.
In many cases, dreaming of a catbird mewing indicates that the dreamer is pretending to be something that they are not. Although a catbird can effortlessly produce sounds that resemble cats, the illusion goes no further than their cries. A catbird cannot live in the manner of a cat.
So, dreaming of a catbird may be a warning that the persona that the dreamer is attempting to imitate will harm them in the long run.
This is especially poignant for individuals in new relationships. For such individuals, dreaming of a catbird may be a cautionary sign to remind them to be themselves. It is easy to get swept up in a new relationship and try to fashion oneself into the ideal partner for this new love. The catbird reminds us that we cannot change our essence no matter how desperately we may mimic this new ideal.
Dreaming of catbirds may also relate to an unmet need to express oneself. Catbirds from various groups possess specialized vocal organs called “syrinx,” which allow them to produce an array of dazzling songs and mimicking sounds. They often choose prominent high places from which to sing these elaborate songs. If you dream of a catbird, you may be feeling the desire to be listened to, or to express yourself creatively.
Catbird Encounters and Omens
Because they belong to so many different groups, catbird encounters can happen in a variety of unique environments. For most who encounter these birds, the trademark that gives their identities away is the namesake mewing cry that they produce.
In order to produce this cry, many species of catbird possess a syrinx that is highly adapted to produce multiple sounds at once. So, these birds can mimic a variety of sounds by using two “voices.”
Because of this, a catbird encounter may be an omen that signifies the presence of dishonesty in one’s life. If a catbird encounter has impacted you, keep an eye out for individuals or relationships in which a person seems to have two voices; one may be a deception.
In the same vein, catbirds’ mimicry can be seen as a tendency to misrepresent oneself. In fact, as a catbird mimics their own predator, a person who fears vulnerability may affect a cold or tough personality to ward off danger. A catbird encounter can be a warning to drop this affectation and allow your true voice to shine.
Catbird in Mythology & Folklore
Many mythic traditions include characters and monsters that employ mimicry. In some cases, these creatures share noteworthy traits with the catbird. Although there are few instances of catbirds appearing in myths themselves, these stories effectively reflect the cultural meaning of catbirds.
Native American Mythology:
There is a Hopi myth about Spider Grandmother in which a catbird appears as a messenger. In this instance, the catbird brings good news and is the cause for great celebration. Although its role is minor, the catbird can clearly be identified as a messenger spirit in this story.
In Irish folkloric traditions, the banshee is a wailing woman that appears as a harbinger of death. Sometimes a hag and sometimes a beautiful woman, this creature materializes to cry a mournful keening cry when death is near. She is said to appear with a sound that resembles the fluttering of birds’ wings. Catbirds are often described as having a “wailing” cry. Though certainly unsettling, the banshee is not always considered malevolent. In many cases, the banshee is interpreted as a gentle messenger who eases the living into a restful death. (6)
The genus Ailuroedus comes from the Greek for “cat-voiced.” In Greek tradition, catbirds are inextricably associated with their namesake felines.
Catbird Spirit Animal
Catbirds are interesting animals to connect with. As spirit animals, they have a curious and guiding presence. However, the catbird spirit animal comes with as many pitfalls and weaknesses as it does with strengths.
People with the catbird spirit animal tend to be composed of a number of paradoxes. Gregariousness and introversion, though seemingly incompatible, go hand in hand in the personality of the person with the catbird spirit animal. These people have a tendency to be “social chameleons.” They effortlessly adapt to any social group after carefully observing group dynamics. Though this can make them the life of the party, people with the catbird spirit animal often have many friendly acquaintances and very few true friends.
For individuals with the catbird spirit animal, it is important to remember that changing oneself to be accepted by others is not an effective way to forge connections. In some cases, people with the catbird spirit animal may indulge in this habit to such a degree that their actions might be interpreted as deceptive or dishonest.
In essence, the catbird spirit animal belongs to creative and deeply sensitive souls. These individuals are often drawn to “people-watching” as a pastime. Though they may long for connection, vulnerability is a consistent struggle for individuals with this spirit animal. In relationships where they feel accepted and comfortable, catbird spirits dazzle their loved ones with their perceptiveness and artistic personalities.
Catbird Totem Animal
As a totem animal, the catbird imbues an individual with the above traits as well as an innate cunning. People with the catbird totem animal are clever in almost every sense of the word. Problem-solving, strategy, and social intelligence all come quite easily to individuals with the catbird totem animal.
As a result of this, people with the catbird totem animal may find that they cannot abide losing. As catbirds perch on the highest branches, so too do people with the catbird totem feel deeply uncomfortable unless they have a clear advantage. This can lead to intense competitiveness and an overachieving mindset. Ambition, though, can lead to individuals with the catbird totem animal struggling to connect with others.
To avoid developing such blind spots, individuals with the catbird totem animal should make an effort to introspect and curb their perfectionistic tendencies wherever possible.
Catbird Power Animal
The catbird power animal grants an ability that can be a double edged sword. People with the catbird power animal are excellent communicators and can be adept at persuasion, bluffing, and even deceit. Like the two voiced catbird, people with this power animal may be described as silver-tongued.
Persuasion is a skill can contribute a lot of positivity to one’s life. When used well, this ability can lead to professional growth, incredible peace-making, and leadership abilities, and can even be turned inwards to bolster self-esteem and positive thinking.
When this talent is used in a manipulative or deceptive fashion, the catbird power animal can be self-defeating. Deception is rarely limited to those around us, and one weakness of the catbird power animal is the unfortunate tendency to lie to oneself. People with the catbird power animal should examine their goals carefully, and choose to use their talents for purposes that uplift themselves and others.
Catbird Tattoo Meaning
A catbird tattoo is symbolic of courage. A person may get a catbird tattoo in order to represent the value of laughter in the face of fear.
Such a tattoo may also represent adaptability and ingenuity.
Catbirds are inquisitive and daring little creatures. Their mewing cries may be the source of their name, but in many ways catbirds are quite similar to their namesakes. Gregarious but guarded, mirthful and mysterious, these enigmatic birds certainly have an element of feline charm to them.
There is something poetic about a bird that is specially adapted to imitate, and perhaps even mock, the predator that most urgently threatens avian populations. If nothing else, this behavior seems to evoke a sort of defiance in the face of death. It is almost jarring to remember that this indomitable spirit belongs to a drab gray little songbird like the gray catbird.
Whether or not you feel a special connection to the catbird, it is difficult not to admire the vocal stylings of these birds. Their range of mewing cries, trilling notes, and stolen songs remind us that strength can come in many forms and can be found in all creatures.
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