Beak of the Week – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

Family: Polioptilidae

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a tiny bird that can be easily identified by its buzz-like ‘pzzz’ call that it makes as it energetically flits about and hovers in treetops, pursuing insects to eat. As its name indicates, its body is of a blue-gray color on top and paler gray below, though females and non-breeding males have more of a gray hue rather than the notable blue-gray. Their long tails are black and bordered by white outer feathers, and they have a distinct white eyering. Breeding males appear to have “angry eyebrows” due to a black “V” shape above the bill that extends above the eyes. To uncover insects among the leaves, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flicks its tail back and forth, flashing the white edges. While perched, it often holds its tail straight up or to one side.

A single pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can build up to seven nests in one breeding season as insurance against predators, parasites, and nest parasites such as cowbirds. They use lichen, spiderwebs, and plant material to secure the nest on the top of a single branch. These birds are very territorial, and males are not opposed to participating in an aerial brawl, where they snap at each other from great heights until the intruder is deterred or the territory is stolen.

In recent decades, the range of this species has been increasingly shifting north, likely due to the increasing temperatures in certain parts of the year. Their preferred habitat consists of deciduous trees that are near edges and water sources such as streams. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher population is currently stable.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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