A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a fairly common summer visitor to Sonoma County, staying mostly in the drier, higher elevations of the eastern part of the county. The entry for this bird in the Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas of 1995 calls it a "rare summer resident" but notes that the population may be increasing. Apparently the population has increased in the past 15 years or so, as local bird watchers don't seem to consider it a rarity today. It remains confined, however, to suitable habitat, as described above. Seems to prefer brushy areas, thickets, and open wooded edges. Likely to be seen moving rapidly through branches looking for insects. Usually begins to arrive in  early April and leaves by early November. Often solitary, but may be seen in pairs during breeding season and may associate with kinglets and warblers. A common cowbird host, according to The Birder's Handbook.    

Tiny, active bird with a pointed black bill; a long, black and white tail (outermost tail feathers are white, tail looks mostly white from below, mostly black from above; tail may be held up, cocked, like a wren's, or flicked about); mostly pale grey underneath, darker, blue-grey above; fine but prominent white eye-ring; proportionately long, black legs; may show a little white in the wings, but no wing bars. Females paler overall. The Peterson guides say Blue-gray Gnatcatcher may suggest a miniature Mockingbird. In breeding plumage, males acquire a blackish forehead and/or black line over the eye.

The voice is fairly distinctive--a thin but buzzy zeep! or zeep-zeep!

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 96

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 358

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 131

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 346

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 388

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 488-489

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 450

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 295

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 350

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 292

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, p. 19

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 220-221

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 56

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 242

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 284

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 268

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 339

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 544

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 309

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Blue-gray Gnatcatcher



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Polioptila caerulea

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, May 6, 2010

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County