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The Beautiful Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Updated on July 18, 2015
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher | Source

A Woodland Songbird

A neotropical, woodland nesting migrant, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher might be easy to see at times, but is not easy to photograph. These birds are canopy nesters, with an open cup, conelike nest placed upon a horizontal tree branch. There are generally four to five eggs per clutch, and in the southernmost areas of the United States, they usually raise two clutches. The diet of both the adults and young are almost exclusively insects, which makes sense, as their protein needs are very high due to their high energy levels. The immature birds have a bit of an edge on their parents regarding foraging, as they can move about with just as much skill around the thickets due to their diminutive size.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher | Source

A Warbler-like Flycatcher

This tiny, very active bird has a thin dark bill, and a white eye ring with blue-gray upperparts, a white underside, and flicks the long black tail from side-to-side. The undertail is nearly all white, and due to tail movement, it tends to disturb and raise insects for consumption. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher resembles a warbler with the thin bill and slim torso. The male in breeding plumage has a black eyebrow, which the female is clearly missing.

It behaves like a flycatcher to some degree, taking bugs on the wing, but will also forage in both deciduous trees and conifers. This gnatcatcher may also strike larger insects against a branch to make them easier to handle, favoring spiders, caterpillars, beetles, flies, and mosquitoes. However, they are not just limited to this range of protein.

Its call is a wheezy zeet, spee, or zwee combination and chip sounds, enjoying the outskirts of deciduous woodlands and thickets near water. It moves rapidly and erratically about while it forages on and about lower- and mid-range leafy branches.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Range Map
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Range Map | Source

Where in the World is This Bird?

It is a common breeding bird in both southern New England to southeast regions, as well as west of Texas and encompasses the central western part of the US. Their range is veering northward, especially with global warming’s reaches, especially in the east.

The only true migratory gnatcatcher, this is the most northern species. At this time, this naturally occurring bird in Mexico, Central America, Cuba, the Bahamas and general areas has a worldwide population of fifty-seven million, extending over 6.7 million kilometers. It is also a bird of least concern in the present, but don’t let that deter you in observing such a personable and unpredictable little bird. According to the Christmas Bird Count, the population of this gnatcatcher has had a small increase over a forty-year period.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher | Source

Parasitism

They are also subject to cowbird parasitism, which has been known to have an impact on localized populations. Where they were observed in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a population of approximately a dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds are residing in the vicinity of nests. However, this has been a good year for the gnatcatchers with plenty of available insects due to a sizable amount of rain for the past two years.

Giving a Helping Hand

Surprisingly, the two immature youngsters were observed handling their own feeding needs, while a parent looked on vigilantly. There was a recently fledged Eastern Phoebe on the ground nearby, hoping to be fed by its own parent. To show that animals really are sentient beings, the adult Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fed the little phoebe while waiting for the adult to return. These are the kinds of co-operative efforts that occur in the animal world that we rarely see, and this is what contributes to the proliferation of some of the more common species.

Turks & Caicos Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Postage Stamp
Turks & Caicos Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Postage Stamp | Source

Postage Stamp Depicting Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Turks and Caicos Islands placed a likeness of this interesting little bird on one of its postage stamps in 1973. It is part of a series of definitIve stamps, portraying wild birds. If you happen to be a philatelist specializing in avian stamps, this is a must-have addition to your collection.

Have You Seen the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Your Area?

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Dolores, I am glad that you have been able to see them, too, so you are aware of the pitfalls on trying to get a nice exposure. Happy birding!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Love your pictures of this adorable little bird. They move so quickly that I have a hard time catching up to them with binoculars.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Dave! No mother can let a young bird go without...

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb ,

      Thank you once again for increasing my knowledge of the birds on your side of the pond. Great read,interesting and informative. Love how the Gnatcatcher female fed the little Eastern Phoebe chick,as you say these are little gems of nature most people are unaware of.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Blossom! It was an interesting time watching this little doll. The kids were even faster.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Nell! That gnatcatcher was one fast bird! Wish you could have seen all the reject photos that I took, just to get the handful that I did. It sure is a great little bird, though.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      How lovely! So interesting and great photos, too.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi Deb, lovely photos as usual, and once again I have never seen this bird, so I learned something new! and what a cute bird it is! great info, nell

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Larry! No, it took a while to get this. Those birds are like little rockets.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Gorgeous photos. Those can't have been easy to get. Wonderful hub.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is a bird that is very easy to ID, Sha, and you may well have seen one. They are in your area year-round, but are not always easy to spot.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Alicia! This was fun to write after spending time with such a delightful little subject.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm pretty sure this is the bird I saw hidden among my star jasmine and puff plants about a year ago. I'd never seen this type of bird in my neck of the woods. I was fortunate to snap a pretty good shot of it. I just saw one and haven't seen any since. They sure are pretty! I like that they eat mosquitoes. Lord knows we have an over-abundance of the pesky bugs in Central Florida!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and informative hub, Deb. I loved the "Helping Hands" section!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, John! When you have a reputation, it gets around, even with the birds. They know that I mean no harm, so I am very privileged with the ones in this area. I will look up willy wagtail now and see what I find.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Blond Logic! The difficulty with photographing these birds is the velocity with which they move. I had to take about seventy pics in order to get the ones that I put on the story. I'd love to see what you host in Brazil during our winter.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Even though you were rained on, Cris, I'm glad that you had a good time. For me, communing with nature is the highest point of my life. After all, when I find such elusive beings as the gnatcatcher, life HAS to be good.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Faith Reaper, there's always something going on at Boomer Lake, and I am so glad that you enjoyed this little tidbit from some of the not-so-well-known residents.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I enjoyed learning about a bird I wasn't familiar with here in Australia, Deb. one of my favourite birds is the "willy wagtail" ..don't know if they are related but it eats mainly bugs it finds on the ground and flicks it's tail constantly from side to side. They are also very brave little birds but seem quite solitary, occasionally in pairs. I admire the wonderful photos you capture of birds (though I'm sure that big telescopic lens helps). Every time I try to get close enough to photograph birds they fly away. Voted up.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 years ago from Brazil

      Although we are graced with many different birds here in Brazil, I haven't seen this one. We have 8 acres in Northern Brazil and have counted over 100 species but I don't believe any gnat catchers. Fly catchers we have though.

      I imagine those would be difficult to photograph as their camouflage coloring would make it hard to focus on. Great images, and information.

      Voted interesting and voted up.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Interesting, informative and beautiful as always. I'd be more than happy to have these beauties in my backyard. Unfortunately, I only see Robins and cardinals (bright red) as regulars and at times, sparrows. One of them has a habit of whistling but I can't tell which one. :)

      Rain spoiled my trudging in the woods yesterday but it was fun running with a couple of wild elusive rabbits.

      Up and sharing.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Aw, how beautiful and thank you for sharing of this sweet and lovely bird. I truly love song birds. I am not sure I have ever seen one of these beauties. That story is sweet.

      I look forward to reading more of what is going on at Boomer Lake next week!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Peg, it really is my job to educate people about what they have out there. Nature is a beautiful thing and more people need to be out there in it. Thanks for sharing whatever you can of mine to help things move along.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This truly is a beautiful bird and your description of it song and behavior is entertaining and sweet. I love the story of how it helped another bird's fledgling. As always, your photos are amazing. Lots of votes up and pinning to my bird board.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Perhaps, so, Billy, but you do get lots of wonderful birds in your area, including many that share the forests and waters of Oklahoma. Thanks for reading, and you'll see more. Lots more, of course. It is all just a matter of time.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Again we miss out in the Pacific Northwest. It's not fair!!!!!!!

      I'm kidding of course. Great read. You know how much I enjoy these bits of information about the natural world. Thank you!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Peggy! Getting the word out about my feathered friends is top shelf for me.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Some countries make such beautiful stamps that collectors love to have. This would surely be one of them! Beautiful photos and I enjoyed learning about the blue gray gnatcatcher. Thanks! Adding to my birds board on Pinterest and will happily share.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, whonu! It was a fun experience with the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. I found a young one about two years ago, and it took me this long to find more. Imagine that!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Jackie! I know one thing, every time I get fruit, it is nearly impossible to get rid of the fruitless. I wonder if that could be what you're seeing. It would be great to see some of your birds. It took me about a year to get used to my pro camera, then another year to really figure out how to fine tune things. Be patient.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      Nice work my friend. I enjoyed the photos and the info was very informative. Thanks for sharing this fine article. whonu

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I wouldn't mind having a few of these around this summer! We are getting a new like miniature fly; I thought it was gnats but it is shaped just like a fly. I wonder if it has been brought in from another country even?

      Anyway. beautiful sweet birds you have as always. This fall I plan to learn to use my new camera that will take me in closer and see if I can get a few birds. I did get some shots of tiny fuzzy cardinals that were so ugly they were cute!

      ^+

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Mel! It took me a while to get those shots, as those birds are such rockets. You never know, I might get the kids if I am lucky.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Suhail! I wish you could have been there with me to see all of this. You would have enjoyed this research as much as I did. I'm so sorry that you lost your stamps to the hand of a negative force, but your rewards will be much better.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I believe I saw a migrating flock of them once, but I wouldn't swear by it. We do have a California Gnatcatcher that lives in our local canyonlands, but this bird has eluded me as well. I have seen the close cousin Black-tailed Gnatcatcher out in the Anza Borrego Desert, however. Great hub and great photos!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I almost had tears reading this, "To show that animals really are sentient beings, the adult Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fed the little phoebe while waiting for the adult to return. These are the kinds of co-operative efforts that occur in the animal world that we rarely see, and this is what contributes to the proliferation of some of the more common species."

      On another note, I had a great collection of wildlife stamps till 1990 and then someone stole it. I hope who ever did it learned a lot from it.

      Very informative hub!