Bird brain

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A gray catbird, one of the shyest birds in Glacier, grabs insects off a backwater last week.

So I was wandering around in a Glacier Park backwater the other day, trying to get a photo of a bird thatís tough to get a photo of ó at least in Glacier.

The gray catbird.

Iím sure thereís a gray catbird in some city park somewhere that sits in a fence rail and sings to photographers, asking them to take its picture. But in Glacier, a gray bird the size of a robin with a sweet voice is supper for a host of other critters, so itís best to keep a low profile, and the gray catbird is a master of doing that.

In this particular patch of brush and water Iíve listened to the gray catbirds for years. I can count the number of in-focus photos I have of them on one hand. You get a glimpse of one here and there among the brambles and thatís about it.

The catbird gets its name from its call ó a mew that sorta sounds like a cat, particularly if you were to get the cat by the neck and give it a good squeeze. Catbirds also mimic calls from other birds, but with a distinct catbird accent, if you will.

Catbirds arenít all that pretty. Like I said, they have a gray body, but they also have a black cap on their head. They eat bugs in the summer and fruit when itís available. They summer across the west but winter along the coast of Texas, to the east and into Central America.

On my last foray the sun was hard and hot, and the water smelled bad, which is unusual for Glacier. The culprit, I found after a bit of investigation, was a dead duckling floating near the shore.

While a hard hot sun is generally not ideal for taking photos, it was making the bugs very active, and my normally elusive gray catbird was fairly out in the open, grabbing mayflies and other bugs off the water.

Therein was my chance. The bird zipped out to a bush in the water, came around the corner and in a matter of a few seconds grabbed a beak-full of insects.

I rattled off as many frames as the camera could, which is to say a lot, because the camera rattles off 10 frames per second.

A handful were in focus. The bird looks perturbed that he let himself up. I all but hugged myself. Birders are weird like that.


Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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