Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Polioptila melanura




Gnatcatchers and Gnatwrens (Polioptillidae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Pale blue or green with brown markings

Number of Eggs:

3 - 5

Incubation Days:


Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

In fork of low shrub, 1 - 4 feet above ground.

Nest Material:

Plant fibers and down, bound with spider silk


Most do not migrate



Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Medium-sized gnatcatcher with black cap, blue-gray upperparts, black tail, and pale gray underparts. Bill is short, slender, and black. Black tail is edged with white; underside of tail appears mostly black with large white spots near tip when closed. Female is paler and lacks black cap. Winter male resembles female but has a dark eyebrow.

Range and Habitat

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: In California the range extends south, from extreme southern Inyo County through eastern San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial counties, to Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, throughout northern and central Mexico. Considered a permanent resident throughout their range. Habitat includes arid scrub-lands, open areas, deserts and arid country.

Breeding and Nesting

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Both parents build cup nest in fork of mesquite, creosote or other desert scrub, usually one to four feet above ground. Nest is compact, made of plant down bound with insect and spider silk. Female lays three to five pale blue or green eggs marked with brown. Incubation by both the male and female usually 14 days in duration. Altricial young tended by both parents fledge between 9 and 15 days.

Foraging and Feeding

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Gleans insects from foliage and branches. Occasionally will hover. Diet sometimes includes spiders and seeds.


Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Song a rapid series of "jee" notes. Call a wrenlike "cheeh" or "ssheh."

Similar Species

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is distinctly blue toned, with obvious white eye ring and pale bill. Breeding male lacks black cap. Black-capped Gnatcatcher has much less black on underside of tail, almost completely white with black extending lengthwise down middle, longer bill, and less distinct eye ring. California Gnatcatcher is darker and more dusky overall with more brown tones throughout, tail almost completely black on underside with very little white edging. All species have different vocalizations.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The area on top of the head of the bird.
Also called the supercilicum or superciliary it is the arch of feathers over each eye.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X