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Sitting in the Catbird Seat

What the heck does that mean?

Longtime baseball announcer Red Barber often described a player in a winning situation as "sitting in the catbird seat." So what is "sitting in the catbird seat"? And what is a catbird? The Gray Catbird is a cousin of the mockingbird, and it does sound a little like a cat. During breeding season, when it's protecting its territory, the catbird competes with others of its species. The two combatants sing their way to higher and higher perches. The one who finally takes the highest perch is ... well ... sitting in the catbird seat!

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Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Sitting in the Catbird Seat

Written by Ellen Blackstone

This is BirdNote!
[Strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”]
Longtime Brooklyn Dodger and later New York Yankee announcer Red Barber often described a player in a winning situation as “sitting in the catbird seat.” [Recording of Red Barber]
So what is “sitting in the catbird seat”? And what, for that matter, is a catbird? The catbird part is easy: it’s a cousin of the mockingbird, in the bird family known as the mimids (pronounced MIMM-idz). And it does sound a little like a cat. [Mewing of Gray Catbird]
But where did that phrase come from? It’s been around since the 19th century, probably originating in the south, where there are lots of catbirds. The Gray Catbird is normally a skulker, foraging near the ground. [Mewing of a Gray Catbird] But during breeding season, when it’s protecting its territory, the catbird is likely to pick fights with others of its species. As part of the competition, the two combatants sing their way to higher and higher perches. The one who finally takes the highest perch is … well … sitting in the catbird seat, with the best view, in control, top bird, so to speak. [Song of Gray Catbird]
So, take it from the old redhead: the catbird seat is the place to be. [Strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”]

###
Audio of the Gray Catbird provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Call recorded by W.L. Hershberger.  Song recorded by G.F. Budney.
Red Barber audio from Old Gold Cigarette commercials, www.youtube.com.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Harry Caray, www.youtube.com
Producer:  John Kessler
Executive Producer:  Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org   July 2013   Narrator: Frank Corrado

ID#071307catbirdKPLU    catbird-01-FCr  

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