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Species Guide

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Polioptila plumbea

The Tropical Gnatcatcher, scientifically known as Polioptila plumbea, is a diminutive and sprightly insectivorous songbird. This avian resident is adorned with grey upperparts and a contrasting white underbelly. Its tail, a striking feature, is predominantly black with white outer feathers, presenting a black appearance from above and white from below. The male is distinguished by a black cap that extends just below the eye, while the female sports a grey cap and may exhibit a black post-ocular patch.

Identification Tips

To identify the Tropical Gnatcatcher, look for a small bird with a long, slender bill and a tail that is often cocked upwards. The male's black cap and the white patch in the wing, caused by broad white edging to the tertials, are key features. Females lack the black cap, instead showing a grey one, and some may have an irregular black patch behind the eye.


The Tropical Gnatcatcher thrives in a variety of wooded environments, from arid woodlands and scrub to humid forests. It is typically found at canopy height in dense forests but can be observed at lower levels in more open habitats.


This species is widely distributed across northern South America, from the Caatinga region of northeastern Brazil, through the Amazon Basin, to the Guianas, northern Venezuela, and northern Colombia. It is also found from northwestern Peru through Central America to southern Mexico.


The Tropical Gnatcatcher is often seen moving alone or in pairs, actively gleaning insects from outer twigs and foliage. It is known to join mixed-species feeding flocks and exhibits a curious nature, showing little fear of humans.

Song & Calls

The bird's vocalizations include a thin buzzy "gezzz" call and a trilled "swee see see si si si su su" song, with variations across its range.


The nest of the Tropical Gnatcatcher resembles that of a hummingbird, a small cup constructed from vegetable fibers. The female lays two or three brown-spotted white eggs, primarily in May and June.

Similar Species

The White-browed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila bilineata) is similar in appearance but can be differentiated by the white underparts that extend above the eye, creating a more restricted black cap.

Diet and Feeding

This bird's diet consists of spiders, their eggs, beetles, caterpillars, and other insects. It is an adept forager, often partaking in mixed-species feeding flocks.

Conservation Status

The Tropical Gnatcatcher is classified as Least Concern due to its common and widespread presence throughout most of its range. However, certain subspecies with limited distributions may face threats due to habitat destruction.

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Tropical Gnatcatchers on Birda

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Profile picture for Jaider Carrillo
Jaider Carrillo
19 Mar 2024 - 2:26pm

More Gnatcatchers

A photo of a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) , male

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Polioptila caerulea
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