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The California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) is a small songbird which lives in the coastal sage scrub habitat of southern California. It is a federally-listed threatened species, mainly due to the rapid destruction of about 90% of its habitat. California gnatcatchers are a distinct species from both the Black-tailed and Blue-gray gnatcatchers.

California Gnatcatchers are extremely small. I once witnessed a ferocious battle between a male gnatcatcher and a trespassing hummingbird... they were almost equally matched in size! Female and juvenile gnatcatchers are gray-blue in color and are darker on top, pale underneath. Adult males are similar in coloration but have a distinctive black cap on their heads. Because they are so small and stay down in the bushes they are difficult to watch and identify (or even find!!) in the wild. However, the only other bird of similar size that inhabits southern California coastal sage scrub is the bushtit. Unlike gnatcatchers, bushtits travel in large groups, make chirpy sounds, are tan-gray in color, and do not have tails which point up in the air as gnatcatchers do. C. gnatcatchers are non-migratory and stay in the same area for their entire lives. They mate for life and pairs of them defend territories (which are surprisingly large for the size of the bird!) by flying from bush to bush making funny whiny-mewling noises which can best be described in writing as "Spzzzzzzz!! mzzzzz!"

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