Monday, March 5, 2012

Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher

Gnatcatchers are curious little birds. They seem to be as close as the natural world comes to creating a perpetual motion device and can be found throughout much of Arizona (and many other states) year round. The Blue-Gray and the Black-Tailed are the two common species in the Phoenix area, but they can be as frustrating to photograph at times as they can be difficult to tell apart.

When not in their breeding plumage, the Blue-Grays and Black-Tails both have a dull grayish white coat. The Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher can still be told apart by the dark underside to its tail, as this upright female is displaying.

The male Black-Tailed also sports a nice black cap when he's courting, though this leads to its own problems of taxonomical separation from the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher found in southeastern Arizona.

Gnatcatchers are warbler size, but nearly half of their body length is made up of the birds' tails, which they flick about and use to balance while hopping and running in dense foliage, as well as scare up insects.

I recently found a pretty good spot for observing both Blue-Grays and Black-Tails, so I'm hoping to follow up with more photos and behavioral observations. For some reason, this relatively dull birds hold a special fascination for me, perhaps only because it's so tricky to get a good long look at them.