Gnatcatcher: 21 Facts You Won’t Believe!

The North American migratory bird blue-gray gnatcatcher facts

The blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) is a small bird that has a long tail that can be usually found in scrublands and broadleaf forests. These birds eat insects and move a lot but it’s easy to spot them because this bird species nests around in dense foliage looking for insects and spiders. It also makes it easier for us humans to know that they are around because of their soft and insistent calls. These calls are either marking territory or an act of peacocking. Their nests are usually found on top of branches and they look like tree knots that are made of mostly spiderwebs and lichens.

Read on for facts about this bird and check out more similar articles about the black-capped gnatcatcher and carrion crow.


Fact File

What do they prey on?

Insects, spiders, and other invertebrates

What do they eat?


Average litter size?

2-5 eggs 1-2 broods

How much do they weigh?

0.18–0.25 oz (5–7 g)

How long are they?

3.9–5.1 in (10–13 cm)

How tall are they?

Not Specified

What do they look like?


Skin Type


What are their main threats?

Wildfires, spring heat waves, humans

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Northernmost Habitat - rivers, streams, lakes, ash, maple, and oak forests. Southwest Habitat - oak and pinyon-juniper woodlands, chaparral, willow, and cottonwood woodlands near water South Central and Mid-Atlantic Habitat - upland broadleaf and mixed forests, streams, and rivers Farther South Habitat - swamp forests, pine flat-woods with an oak understory Winter Habitat - mangrove forests, marsh lands, orchards with citrus trees, savannahs, and highland oaks.


Central and South America





Scientific Name

Polioptila caerulea





Gnatcatcher Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a gnatcatcher?

The blue-gray gnatcatcher is a small long-tailed bird that can be usually nesting around scrublands and broadleaf forests.

What class of animal does a gnatcatcher belong to?

The blue-gray gnatcatcher belongs to the Aves class.

How many gnatcatchers are there in the world?

The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that there are about 160 million global breeding populations of blue-gray gnatcatchers

Where does a gnatcatcher live?

Blue-gray gnatcatchers and their family live in rivers, streams, lakes, woodlands,  swamps, citrus orchards, and forests. And their range is so vast they pretty can be seen virtually everywhere.

What is a gnatcatcher's habitat?

The blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea, are migratory birds, they can be seen almost everywhere. But these are the common habitats they have been observed at:

Northernmost habitat - rivers, streams, lakes, ash, maple, and oak forests.

Southwest habitat - oak and pinyon-juniper woodlands, chaparral, willow, and cottonwood woodlands near water

South Central and Mid-Atlantic habitat - upland broadleaf and mixed forests, streams, and rivers

Farther South habitat - swamp forests, pine flat-woods with an oak understory

Winter habitat - cypress swamps, citrus orchards, mangroves, savannah with scattered groves, and a range of woodlands from sea level swamp forests to highland oaks

Who do gnatcatchers live with?

These bird species migrate together in hundreds or in thousands. They will follow the seasons and their genetic memory to go where greener pastures are. During the migration process, some of these birds have tremendous range and may reach farther north, in the North America region, than the usual migration path due to strong northerly winds, as well as southwest winds in the warmer regions, on the west side of high-pressure systems. They usually find their way back in the southern regions on or before nesting season starts. These are bird species are very territorial. They start with vocal displays and postures to get rid of rivals that are near and sometimes may end in mid-air confrontations.

How long does a gnatcatcher live?

The average lifespan of a gnatcatcher in the wild is 50 months.

How do they reproduce?

Blue-gray gnatcatchers start reproducing when males arrive in breeding areas. They will sing to try and attract possible mates and they will defend that territory with everything they’ve got. They are highly territorial when mating season starts. In some cases, they will even have aerial battles and will be relentless to get rid of rivals. A pair of blue-gray gnatcatcher can make up to seven nests during a breeding season. They do this because they’re smart enough to recycle and reuse materials from their older nets. Maybe it has been an evolutionary trait since these materials are degrading which attracts mites and nest parasites that ultimately cause brood failure or death to the young ones and the destruction of their nests.

What is their conservation status?

In terms of conservation status according to North American Breeding Bird Survey, the blue-gray gnatcatcher has been declared as Least Concern. It has been observed that their numbers increased particularly in the West. With the latest data in bird conservation, an estimate of about 160 million of these birds are breeding. It’s also been observed that the biggest population of these birds can be found in the southeastern US. Cowbird parasitism is one of the threats that these birds have. Although gnatcatchers will fend off intruding cowbirds, once a cowbird will be able to lay an egg in its nest, these tiny birds won’t be able to get rid of them any more.

Gnatcatcher Fun Facts

What do gnatcatchers look like?

The blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea, is often confused with similar species. These birds look alike so you must have attention to detail if you want to distinguish one from the other. Similar species are as follows:

The golden-crowned kinglet R(egulus satrapa) has wing bars, a white eyebrow, and a short tail, whereas a blue-gray gnatcatcher has a plain face and wings, and has a long tail.

The ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) has wing bars that a blue-gray gnatcatcher doesn't have and they also have shorter tails and a bolder eye-ring compared to a blue-ray gnatcatcher.

Gray vireos (Vireo vicinior) are very active like gnatcatchers, however, they are a bit larger, have thicker bodies and a gray bill, whereas blue-gray gnatcatcher has a thin, black bill.

Plumbeous vireos (Vireo plumbers) are huge compared to blue-gray gnatcatcher, and they typically hunt slowly and methodically, compared to a gnatcatcher’s quick and bouncing movements. Plumbeous vireos also have two wing bars that a blue-gray gnatcatcher doesn’t have.

A gnatcatcher in its natural habitat.

How cute are they?

Although they are very cute, these birds are highly aggressive and territorial against rivals and other birds, even more so if they have already established a nest.

How do they communicate?

A male will be communicating towards intruders and same-sex rivals, through making audible bill clapping and posturing while raising their tail. When it's mating calls during the breeding season, a male blue-gray gnatcatcher will sing insistently to attract possible female mates.

How big is a gnatcatcher?

These birds are tiny, they are only about 3.9-4.3 in long (10-11.5 cm).

How fast can a gnatcatcher fly?

There are no official records on how fast they fly. However, the northern breeders cover vast distances during their migration. Most of the southern breeders are short-distance migrants and some are year-round residents.  

How much does a gnatcatcher weigh?

These birds are very light, they are only about 0.18-0.25 oz in weight (5-7 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no official names for male and female blue-gray gnatcatchers, however, the breeding male is tiny and slim, a thin straight bill, and has long legs and a male has a long tail. Female gnatcatchers are tiny songbirds with a long dark tail with white outer tail feathers and have a thin white eye-ring.

What would you call a baby gnatcatcher?

Baby gnatcatchers are called altricial.

What do they eat?

They eat small insects, including leafhoppers, treehoppers, plat bugs, leaf beetles, caterpillars, flies, small wasps, spiders, and many others.

Are they dangerous?

They are not dangerous, but they are very territorial, especially when a male spots a male rival in their territory.

Would they make a good pet?

Since they are migratory birds, it's best to keep them in the wild.

Did you know...

Gnats are not part of their diet, in spite of their name blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Different types of gnatcatcher

The California gnatcatcher, Polioptila californica, has a little white on the underside of the tail, whereas a blue-gray gnatcatcher has white outer tail feathers which make the tail look white from below. They can be seen in Baja California and Mexico along with coastal sage scrubs, desert scrub, and coastal dune scrubs and are classified as Least Concern.

Black-tailed gnatcatchers, Polioptila melanura, is mostly black with tiny white circles. Breeding males have a black cap that a blue-gray gnatcatcher doesn’t have. They can be seen along the lower Colorado River. They can also be seen in semi-arid places such as along creosote bush, saltbush, mesquite, palo verde, ocotillo, and spiny hackberry, as well as cacti such as saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, and barrel cactus.

What do gnatcatchers sound like?

Both males and females use high-pitched, nasal calls. A sharp screeching sound in bursts of two to six notes about a second apart. If they are really agitated, high-pitched trills are often heard. They use faster, louder, sharper tones on their call during aggressive encounters. High-pitched whistles and a two-note hiccup are used by females during nest site selection. A male usually sings variable series of four to eight short soft phrases early in the nesting season. Loud bill snapping sounds are males trying to fend off intruders or when trying to defend their territory.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our gloster canary facts and cape starling facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable songbird coloring pages.



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