California Gnatcatcher

Polioptila californica
Range Map

In 1993, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed the California Gnatcatcher as threatened, and in some areas endangered, because of increasing development in its coastal sage scrub habitat. By this time, the insatiable greed of real estate developers had whittled the suitable habitat these birds depend on for their survival to fewer and fewer locations, especially in southern California. Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, these birds saved some small remaining patches of habitat and preserved remanents of those fragile ecosystems. While the species is hanging on and surviving in these few remaining locations, the pressure from developers has not abated.

Today’s taxonomists call out three subspecies of California Gnatcatcher:

  • P. c. californica lives in southwestern California and south to northwestern Baja California (Mexico).
  • P. c. pontilis lives in central Baja California (Mexico).
  • P. c. margaritae lives in southern Baja California (Mexico).

As with their other gnatcatcher cousins, I’ve found these birds equally bold and inquisitive when I’ve met them. Their catlike mewing calls are unlike other members of their clan. Only the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher’s range overlaps with these birds in southern California. The entire range for this species extends south, the full length of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.



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