Black-tailed Gnatcatchers (Polioptila melanura) are quite common in desert areas around Tucson. These tiny birds can be seen moving through trees and bushes in search of insects.
Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are nonmigratory and the pairs stay together all year. Both male and female Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are mostly gray, but during the breeding season, the males like this one have a black cap.
Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are very similar to three other species of Gnatcatcher found in the southwestern US. Gnatcatchers are best identified by their undertail markings and the presence or absence of a black cap on the breeding males.
- A breeding male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura) has a black cap and has mostly black feathers with broad, white tips on the underside of the tail. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are found from Texas to southeastern California.
- A breeding male California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) has a black cap and has mostly black feathers with only very narrow white tips on the underside of the tail. California Gnatcatchers used to be considered various coastal subspecies of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, but they are now a separate species. California Gnatcatchers are found in Baja California and southwestern California, where they are threatened by rampant land development.
- A breeding male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) has a gray head (no black cap) and has mostly white on the underside of the tail. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are found throughout the southwest and much of the US.
- A breeding male Black-capped Gnatcatcher (Polioptila nigriceps) has a black cap and has mostly white on the underside of the tail. This Mexican species can also be found here in southeastern Arizona.