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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Polioptila caerulea ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: POLIOPTILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them. Pairs use spiderweb and lichens to build small, neat nests, which sit on top of branches and look like tree knots.

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Keys to identification Help

Chickadeelike
Chickadeelike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are tiny, slim songbirds with long legs; a long tail; and a thin, straight bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are pale blue-gray birds with grayish-white underparts and a mostly black tail with white edges. The underside of the tail is mostly white. The face is highlighted by a thin but obvious white eyering. In summer, male Blue-gray Gnatcatchers sport a black ‘V’ on their foreheads extending above their eyes.

  • Behavior

    The energetic Blue-gray Gnatchatcher rarely slows down, fluttering after small insects among shrubs and trees with its tail cocked at a jaunty angle. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers often take food from spiderwebs and also abscond with strands of webbing for their tiny nests, which are shaped like tree knots.

  • Habitat

    In the East, gnatcatchers breed in deciduous forests and near edges, often in moister areas. In the West, look for them in shorter woodlands and shrublands including pinyon-juniper and oak woodlands.

Range Map Help

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Range Map
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Similar Species

Similar Species

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the only gnatcatcher species in most of the United States. The Black-tailed Gnatcatcher of the Southwest and California Gnatcatcher of Southern California both are overall darker, with much less white in the tail, than Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. In summer males of both Black-tailed and California have entirely black crowns. Gray Vireos of the arid West are very active like gnatcatchers, (and unlike typical vireos), but they are larger, thicker birds with fairly thick, gray bills compared to the gnatcatcher’s thin, black bill. Other vireos, such as Plumbeous Vireo, are also bulkier than gnatcatchers, and typically forage slowly and methodically rather than the gnatcatcher’s quick, flitting movements. Kinglets have wingbars, shorter tails, and are a greenish-gray compared to the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers’ bluish-gray shade. Golden-crowned Kinglets have a golden yellow patch of feathers on the crown of their heads and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have an often concealed red patch on their crowns. crowns.

Regional Differences

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers from the Rocky Mountains and westward are generally drabber than gnatcatchers of the East. Western females tend to have a brownish cast to their upperparts and summer males have a shorter and wider black forehead “V.” They also show black at the base of the underside of the tail, unlike the eastern birds’ entirely white underside to the closed tail. The calls and particularly the songs of the two forms differ as well.

Find This Bird

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are widespread but not abundant. The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range. It’s a bit easier to find gnatcatchers in the West because they tend to occur in shorter, more open habitat. During fall migration, eastern Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can accumulate on the Gulf Coast, particularly the Texas coast, in huge numbers.