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Sitting in the catbird seat

I’ve heard the phrase, ‘sitting in the catbird seat’ all of my life.

I never thought much about it until last summer. I was having an early morning cup of coffee on my back porch and heard what I thought was a kitten mewing in a large camellia shrub near the porch. Realizing that it was a bird — I pulled out my phone and searched for catbird. The picture popped up and so did a link to hear the call. As my phone played the call, the catbird flew out of the camellia and perched on my porch railing to listen.

This began my curiosity about these beautiful little birds who have come back to the same camellia this spring. ‘Sitting in the catbird seat,’ means that you are in a superior position. Catbirds seek out the highest perches to sing and display, which is likely the origin of the phrase. It might also be the source of an earlier term with much the same meaning — ‘sitting pretty.’

Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song. They are smaller than a mockingbird, lack the white markings on their wings, having a gray body, dark cap and reddish colored undertail coverts.

Catbirds live in dense shrubs, small trees, vines and along forest edges. They are secretive and energetic birds, hopping and fluttering from branch to branch through tangles of vegetation. Once you have heard their catty mew, you will never forget them.

Even if you aren’t ‘sitting in the catbird seat’ or ‘sitting pretty’, these beautiful birds will make you feel as if you are. Another generation will be born in my backyard, so I am definitely ’sitting in the catbird seat.’ 

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.