Bird Database

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

(Polioptila caerulea)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation

Conservation Actions

Maintain unfragmented forest blocks

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

(Polioptila caerulea)

With their long, white-edged tails, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are often likened to miniature mockingbirds. They move their tails about almost constantly as they forage, and this movement plus the occasional flashes of white are believed to aid them by flushing insects from bark or leaves. When a prey item is detected the gnatcatcher will either immediately grab it in its bill or dart out in a short flight to capture it in the air.

Prior to the 1950s the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was extremely rare in New Hampshire, but in the ensuing 50 years it expanded through the lowlands south of the White Mountains. Now it is most reliably seen in the southeastern portion of the state and in a narrow band along the Connecticut River. It is rare and local in most of the Lakes Region. Populations in the region continue to increase, so further expansion is likely. It is found almost entirely in hardwood forests in the Granite State, most commonly along rivers and lakes.

The nest is a tiny cup covered with lichens and spider webs placed high in the canopy on a horizontal branch. Given that it may take a pair two weeks to build their nest, followed by two weeks each for the incubation and nestling periods, it is unlikely that Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can successfully produce two broods like they do in more southerly parts of their range. They are also a frequent host of Brown-headed Cowbirds, and given the large size discrepancy between the two species it should come as no surprise that parasitized nests are extremely unlikely to fledge any gnatcatcher young. Gnatcatchers thus aggressively defend their nests against cowbirds, and sometimes respond to foreign eggs by dismantling their own nest to rebuild it elsewhere.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count