Birds – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

(Polioptila coerulea)


Length—4.5 inches. About two inches smaller than the English sparrow.

Male—Grayish blue above, dull grayish white below. Grayish tips on wings. Tail with white outer quills changing gradually through black and white to all black on centre quills. Narrow black band over the forehead and eyes. Resembles in manner and form a miniature catbird.

Female—More grayish and less blue, and without the black on head.

Range—United States to Canadian border on the north, the Rockies on the west, and the Atlantic States, from Maine to Florida; most common in the Middle States. A rare bird north of New Jersey. Winters in Mexico and beyond. Migrations—May. September. Summer resident.

In thick woodlands, where a stream that lazily creeps through the mossy, oozy ground attracts myriads of insects to its humid neighborhood, this tiny hunter loves to hide in the denser foliage of the upper branches. He has the habit of nervously flitting about from twig to twig of his relatives, the kinglets, but unhappily he lacks their social, friendly instincts, and therefore is rarely seen. Formerly classed among the warblers, then among the fly-catchers, while still as much a lover of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes as ever, his vocal powers have now won for him recognition among the singing birds. Some one has likened his voice to the squeak of a mouse, and Nuttall says it is “scarcely louder,” which is all too true, for at a little distance it is quite inaudible. But in addition to the mouse-like call-note, the tiny bird has a rather feeble but exquisitely finished song, so faint it seems almost as if the bird were singing in its sleep.

If by accident you enter the neighborhood of its nest, you soon find out that this timid, soft-voiced little creature can be roused to rashness and make its presence disagreeable to ears and eyes alike as it angrily darts about your unoffending head, your face and uttering its shrill squeak close to your very ear-drums. All this excitement is in defence of a dainty, lichen-covered nest, whose presence you may not have even suspected before, and of four or five bluish-white, speckled eggs well beyond reach in the tree-tops.

During the migrations the bird seems not unwilling to show its delicate, trim little body, that has often been likened to a diminutive mocking-bird’s, very near the homes of men. Its graceful postures, its song and constant motion, are sure to attract attention. In Central Park, New York City, the bird is not unknown.