Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # O-2003-01

Common name:

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Scientific name: Polioptila melanura
Date: 12/30/02
Time: midday
Length of time observed: 5 minutes
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: female ?
Location: 1 mi. NE of "Tenmile" bridge on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, SE of Escalante
County: Garfield
Latilong: 37d41m15sN, 111d28m24sW
Elevation: 5450'
Distance to bird: 20'
Optical equipment: 7x25 compact binoculars
Weather: 50 deg. F, clear, absolutely calm (thus deadly quiet)
Light Conditions: bird at 90 deg. to sun
Detailed description of bird: A pretty uniformly medium-gray bird with a very long and barely white-edged black tail usually held above long axis of body. A very short and very thin black bill and a small black eye. The only relief to the gray on the head was a lighter zone front-to-back through the eye, to the wings darker primary edging and lighter tertials, but
not much in either case. Sort of a blunt little critter, so that the tail looked longer than the body. I'd have to cheat and look at a picture in a bird guide to say much more.
Song or call & method of delivery: Precisely as Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at end of Side 0ne, Bird Songs of SE AZ and S TX, Keller, 1988. That is, a loud, buzzy, monotonous challenge-call repeated 4 or 5 times, then a second or two pause, then repeated 4 or 5 times, and so on for several minutes. My approach to the bird's territory started its challenge, and my response
"pssshing" kept it going with postures to match (below). Importantly, this is not the weak buzz of the Keller-tape Blue-gray, nor the oft-heard Blue-gray of Garfield County summers. It is much louder, much more insistent and aggressive, yet still very buzzy. "You can't miss it."
Behavior: Typical disturbed gnatcatcher. Constant short movements in a pinyon, 10' - 20' off the ground. Posture is the main thing: Frequent changes of body and tail position, mostly nearly horizontal display to the intruder (me) with frequent partial tail-fanning. Pace of movement "typical gnatcatcher" and very unlike bushtit, chickadee, titmouse, etc.
Habitat: Open pinyon-juniper woodland with sand and slickrock below. Some snow but no standing water in the immediate vicinity.
Similar species and
how were they eliminated:
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: Call dissimilar in every way; little white in undertail and poor contrast between tail and vent (i.e. rather dark undertail coverts); very short black bill; head short and blunt (i.e. a regular "noneck"); I didn't notice any eyering; fairly prominent lighter (almost white) area through the eye which is not really a "superciliary" because it's centered on the eye.
Previous experience with this & similar species: I've looked pretty carefully at California, Black-tailed, Blue-gray and Black-capped Gnatcatchers in the field. In Utah, Blue-grays are yard-birds at one of my houses and I've seen Black-tailed at Lytle Ranch.
References consulted: Both recent Sibley books, the National Geographic book, the Keller tape noted above, and the old tapes for Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Jens Munthe
Observer's address: P.O.Box 80, Escalante, Utah 84726
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified
this bird:
Date prepared: 1/24/03  (General Public)
Additional material: No
Additional comments: I'm submitting this now because I believe a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was reported for the recent Escalante CBC, and I'll bet it was a Black-tailed. Also, I had a Black-tailed at Calf Creek Rec. Area 1 1/2 years ago, but I didn't hear it well and so didn't have enough confidence in my ID to report it. I'm sure now.