Polioptilidae – Gnatcatchers

Cuban Gnatcatcher Polioptila lembeyei ©Will Price Website

These species of small passerine birds in the gnatcatcher family occur in North and South America (except for the far south and the high Andean regions). Most species of this mainly tropical and subtropical group are resident, but the blue-grey gnatcatcher of the US and southern Canada migrates south in winter. They are close relatives of the wrens

These dainty birds are intermediate between Old World warblers and wrens in their structure and habits, moving restlessly through foliage seeking insects. The gnatcatchers are mainly soft bluish grey in colour, and have the typical insectivore’s long sharp bill. Many species have distinctive black head patterns (especially males) and long, regularly cocked, black-and-white tails. The skulking gnatwrens are browner, more thickset, and with proportionally shorter tails and longer bills.

. Gnatwrens typically occur in the undergrowth of dense, often humid, forest, while gnatcatchers, depending on the species involved, occur in anything from dry scrubby habitats (e.g. the California Gnatcatcher) to the canopy of humid Amazonian forest (e.g. the Guianan Gnatcatcher). The North American species nest in bushes or trees, but the breeding behaviour of several of the Neotropical species is essentially unknown

There are generally thought to be 18 species of Gnatcatchers and Gnatwrens in three genera in the family Polioptilidae; they are:

Collared Gnatwren Microbates collaris
Tawny-faced Gnatwren Microbates cinereiventris

Long-billed Gnatwren Ramphocaenus melanurus

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura
California Gnatcatcher Polioptila californica
Cuban Gnatcatcher Polioptila lembeyei
White-lored Gnatcatcher Polioptila albiloris
Black-capped Gnatcatcher Polioptila nigriceps
Tropical Gnatcatcher Polioptila plumbea
Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher Polioptila lactea
Guianan Gnatcatcher Polioptila guianensis
Rio Negro Gnatcatcher Polioptila facilis
Inambari Gnatcatcher Polioptila attenboroughi
Para Gnatcatcher Polioptila paraensis
Iquitos Gnatcatcher Polioptila clementsi
Slate-throated Gnatcatcher Polioptila schistaceigula
Masked Gnatcatcher Polioptila dumicola

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 18

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND