While watching hummingbirds feeding in my backyard this afternoon, another tiny bird flashed across my field of vision. Not much bigger than the hummingbirds, it was a very active little bird, darting in and out among the leaves, never resting long enough to give me a good look. I thought I knew what it was but I waited patiently until it finally showed itself fully as it flitted into the air chasing a tiny insect. I had been right. It was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, certainly one of the most attractive of backyard birds. I ran into the house to get the camera, hoping to get a picture of the bird, but, of course, by the time I returned, it had moved on.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are allegedly present in this area all summer and are said to be permanent residents along the coast, but I almost never see them except during migration season. The last one I had seen in my yard had been in spring, and now, with another migration season, here they are once again.
These little birds look a bit like miniature mockingbirds, except bluer. They have relatively long tails which they flick from side-to-side as they scour the leaves for insects. The tail has a white outer feather on each side which may make it more visible to insects and tend to startle them into flight. The bird feeds just about exclusively on insects, generally very small insects, but it may catch some larger ones which it beats against a branch to dispatch and to help dismember before eating them.
Gnatcatchers are fun to watch because they are so active, never still, always darting about in search of the next insect snack. I hope they will tarry in my yard for a while and give me a chance to watch them a bit longer. Maybe next time I'll even get a picture.