Native to most of temperate North America east of the Rocky Mountains, gray catbirds migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in winter; except for the occasional vagrant they always stay east of the American Cordillera. They are extremely rare vagrants to western Europe. Normally present on the breeding grounds by May, most leave for winter quarters in September/October; as it seems, this species is increasingly extending its stay in the summer range, with some nowadays remaining until mid-winter as far north as Ohio. The gray catbird is a migratory species. Spring migration ranges from March to May, and in the fall ranges from late August to November.
The catbird tends to avoid dense, unbroken woodlands, and does not inhabit coniferous, pine woodland. Catbirds prefer a dense vegetative substrate, especially if thorny vegetation is present.Scrublands, woodland edges, overgrown farmland and abandoned orchards are generally among the preferred locations of the catbird. In Bermuda, its preferred habitats are scrub and myrtle swamp. During the winter season, the catbird has an affinity for berry-rich thickets, especially within proximity of water sources.