Disappearing act: Gnatcatchers are everywhere — and then nowhere — in a flash

PhotoPost, a new feature on Flying Lessons, tells the story through photos, videos and captions. Today’s topic is the omnipresent Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a hyperactive bird not much bigger than a hummingbird that nonetheless seems to be everywhere at once.

Except they always seem to have just moved on.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which can be found in almost every state in the U.S., first strikes you for its crisp, pale-blue plumage and long tail that give it the look of a small mockingbird. But when you tune in and start to follow their manic, zig-zagging path, you realize it’s all about their constant motion. They almost never stop moving.

There’s a clear purpose to the frenetic travels of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It flicks its tail, jumps from branch to branch, turning upside down then upright again, all in pursuit of its next meal. The tail wagging stirs up insects and its speed helps it to catch up to the next morsel. As this video that’s almost as quick as the gnatcatcher shows, it’s not easy just keeping up with the little guy:

The Gnatcatcher became one of my favorite birds when they turned up almost everywhere we traveled. Though there are three species of gnatcatchers found in the U.S, the Blue-gray is by far the most plentiful. They’re hyperactive in more ways than just how they move: they’ll build up to seven or eight nests in a single season — which helps explain why the species is doing well. 

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the move

The travels of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher aren’t limited to the branches it moves across. Many of its species — though not all —  are long-distance migrators that alternate between Central America and all but just a few of the northwestern U.S. states. Here’s an animated migration map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that shows why almost everyone in North America stands a chance of seeing the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at some point during the year.

That is, if you can catch up with it long enough for a good look.

Finally, here’s a gallery of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers that gives you a view from every angle:







Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: