Skip Navigation

Species Search:
FieldGuidesthreatened and/or endangered search resultsthreatened and/or endangered

previous  | next

California Gnatcatcher Polioptila californica


enlarge +

California Gnatcatcher
credit: Marci Koski/USFWS

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

All Images


Get Our Newsletters


Advanced Search

Family: Sylviidae, Old World Warblers and Gnatcatchers view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE When breeding, has blue-gray upperparts; blackish wings have gray-white tertial edges (white in our other gnatcatchers). Tail, from above, is mainly black, but with white tips to outer feathers; from below, tail is mostly black, and white feather tips are much less striking than in Black-tailed. Note black cap and indistinct pale eyering. Underparts are gray. Nonbreeding male has gray, not black, cap. ADULT FEMALE Similar to nonbreeding male. JUVENILE Similar to adult female.

Dimensions Length: 4 1/2 -5" (11-13 cm)

Endangered Status The Coastal California Gnatcatcher, the subspecies of the California Gnatcatcher that occurs in the United States, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California. The reduction in numbers can be attributed to development pressures on its coastal scrub habitat in southern California down into Baja California. Some of its historical habitats have been outright destroyed (literally paved over) and others have been altered and fragmented. Fires started by military activities, livestock grazing, and pollution have destroyed vegetation that the gnatcatchers depend upon. Predators such as raccoons, foxes, crows, snakes, and other species eat the gnatcatchers' eggs and young, which can have a devastating effect on a small population.

Habitat Rather scarce, with entire World population restricted to Baja California and southern California, where it favors coastal chaparral with sagebrush.

Observation Tips Learn to recognize its preferred habitat to find this species.

Range California

Voice Calls include a sequence of rather plaintive, kittenlike mewing notes that rise and fall; song comprises similar phrases.

Discussion Similar to, but duller overall than, Black-tailed, with which, formerly, it was treated as conspecific; also separated geographically and by habitat. Sexes are dissimilar.