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Bird Gallery

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

© Bill Duke

Polioptila caerulea

Family: (Sylviidae) Gnatcatchers and Old World Warblers

Preferred Habitat: Woodlands and forests.

Seasonal Occurrence: Common August through April. Scarce in summer. A few breed in our area.

Profile by Glenn Olsen: This midget of a bird is often overlooked and for some reason not easily remembered. In my birding identification classes I suggest people try to visualize some "impression" or make an "association" with a bird to aid in anchoring the image in the mind for future identification reference. For me the impression that I first made with the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was that it made me think of a diminutive Northern Mockingbird. This memory aid refers to the body shape, tail length, and basic color pattern. The gnatcatcher's body structure and longish tail remind me of a miniature mockingbird. The gnatcatcher is quite beautiful with blue-gray above and white below. In comparison, the mockingbird is gray above and white below. Other distinguishing features for the gnatcatcher are its much smaller size, the white outer tail feathers, and the distinctive white eye ring. In breeding plumage, males have a black line extending from above the eye to the top of the bill. When the male looks directly at you, it has an "angry bird" appearance.

Gnatcatchers can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from mixed upland forests, wooded swamps, to brushy habitat of shrubs and tall grasses. Behavior-wise, the gnatcatcher is a tiny little dynamo in constant motion. It hops from branch to branch, shrub to shrub, or stalk to stalk—repeatedly flicking its tail—while it searches for insects or sallies out to catch a fleeing insect. The majority of the population breeds from Maryland, the Virginias, Kentucky, southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma south to northern Florida and the Gulf Coast. Their tiny nests are placed about mid-length on a limb and may be from 5 to 70 feet off the ground. The nest is finely woven with rootlets, plant down, grass, spider web, and covered with lichen to conceal it.

While you may find a few of these birds during our summer months, and some winter in our area, they are most numerous during fall migration. At Smith Point I have seen hundreds of these tiny birds in a day as they migrate to winter quarters along the Gulf and into Mexico and Central America.