Living Bird Magazine
Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Polioptilidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Perlita Grisilla (Spanish)
- Gobemoucheron gris-bleu (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher's grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds' repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname "Little Mockingbird."
- The nesting range of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers has been shifting northward since the early twentieth century. Over the last quarter of that century, the shift was about 200 miles, in concert with increasing average temperatures.
- A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can build up to seven nests in a breeding season. They often re-use nest material from previous nests, which speeds re-nesting. This can be essential to breeding success, since predation, nest parasitism, or mite infestations frequently cause nest loss and brood failure.
- Occasionally, significant numbers of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers "overshoot" on their spring migrations and end up much further north than usual. They may be carried past their target by strong southwest winds in warm regions, and by strong northerly winds on the west side of high pressure systems. Most probably make their way back south before nesting.
- In spite of their name, gnats do not form a significant part of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher's diet.
- Fiercely territorial Blue-gray Gnatcatchers may use vocal displays and postures to chase a rival as far as 70 feet. Further resistance by an intruder may provoke midair confrontations, with the two birds climbing steeply, breast-to-breast, snapping at each other.
- The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the northernmost-occurring species of gnatcatcher, and the only truly migratory one. Most members of its genus are resident in Central and South America.
- The oldest known Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was a male, and at least 4 years, 2 months old, when it was recaught at a banding station in Pennsylvania and rereleased.