Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Polioptila caerulea
Range Map

The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is the northernmost-occurring species of gnatcatcher, and the only one that migrates. These are the most widespread of all North American gnatcatchers. They breed over much of eastern USA north to the Great Lakes and New England, and in the southwestern USA and California. These birds spend winters in the southern parts of the USA (coast-to-coast), Baja California, mainland Mexico and northern Central America. Some of these birds will stay year round on this winter range.

Nest failure is common in these birds. They may attempt six or seven nests in a season, usually reusing old nest material as an economical means of constructing their subsequent nest. Yet despite this record, these birds usually raise two broods successfully per season.

Taxonomists describe seven subspecies of Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher:

  • P. c. obscura breeds in the western USA and northwestern Mexico, including on the Baja California. They spend winters from southern California and northwestern Mexico south to the western and central Mexico.
  • P. c. caerula breeds in southeastern Canada, the USA east of the Great Plains, and The Bahamas. They spend winters from the southeastern USA, south to Central America.
  • P. c. perplexa lives on the Mexican Plateau.
  • P. c. comiteca lives from central Mexico south to Guatemala.
  • P. c. nelsoni lives in the Oaxaca Valley (Mexico).
  • P. c. deppei lives in eastern Mexico from Nuevo León and Tamaulipas south to Chiapas and on the Yucatan Peninsula south through Belize.
  • P. c. cozumelae lives on Isla Cozumel (Mexico).

When I find these birds sharing territory with Black-Tailed Gnatcatchers, such as in Big Bend (Texas) and the desert regions of California and Arizona, I find it helpful to see the underside of the tail. The Blue-Gray bird has mostly white under the tail, while the underside of the Black-Tailed is mostly black with some white spotting near the tip. Being in the company of these birds has rich rewards in entertainment value. As many other lovers of birds who have met members of this clan may tell you, they are quick to remind us with their scolding calls, that we are intruders in their world.

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