BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER – (Polioptila caerulea)
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the only species of this genus observed on PEI. It is a tiny songbird at around 12 cm (5 in.) long, and is mostly grey-blue on top as its name implies. The wings have no blue tinge. The under parts are white. The grey tail is almost half the bird’s length, and the outer feathers are white, thus helping with identification when the bird is flying. Females have no blue. Both sexes have a white eye ring, black eyes and legs, and a grey bill.
The Latin name ‘Polioptila’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘grey feathers’, and ‘caerulea’ refers to a type of blue.
This species does eat gnats, but not necessarily as much as its name would imply. Blue-gray gnatcatchers also eat other insects and arthropods such as spiders. Their habitat is the mixed forest, preferably moist with rivers or streams for example. The nest is a conical structure built on a branch near the edge of their habitat, rather high in a tree.
The blue-gray gnatcatcher is known to include parts of other species songs in its repertoire, thus earning the nickname of ‘Little Mockingbird’.
This species of bird does not breed on PEI and its occurrence on the island is listed as ‘occasional’ in spring and summer, and ‘rare to uncommon’ in the fall. Its breeding range in Canada only covers the north side of Lakes Erie and Ontario, with the main part in most of the contiguous states of the USA, except the northwest region.
It is a year-round resident in Florida and Mexico, and the northern population migrates to Central America and the Caribbean.
Conservation: the large population of the blue-gray gnatcatcher appears to be increasing and it is also expanding its breeding range, notably in the north eastern part of the USA. This trend seems to be linked to climate change, and if it continues, perhaps the species will eventually breed in the Maritimes as a result.