Gnatty Sign of Spring

Though far away, he hears me spishing at him.

On of the birds whose arrival I note each year as a solid sign of spring is the blue-gray gnatcatcher. Male gnatties come back well before the leaves are out on most trees—and just after the male red-winged blackbirds have started conk-a-reeing in the cattails. How the gnatsters find anything to eat I’ll never know, but they must.

I often hear this species before I see it. It has a high-pitched, sibilant call that sounds more like an angry mosquito than a territorial bird. Hearing the gnatcatcher’s call I scan the treetops, hoping for a sign of movement—these are very active birds. But the gnatsnatcher’s gray-on-gray plumage is a perfect match to the still-leaden winter skies, and I often miss seeing this tiny bug-eater of the treetops.

Gnatcatchers ARE very susceptible to spishing, however. And, as you can see from this series of photos, their curiosity sometimes brings them quite close to the spisher. Try it for yourself.

I’m glad that the gnatties come back early. Even though they don’t add much color to the woods as some later-arriving migrants do, they add sound and activity and life, where everything else seems dormant, still slumbering under winter’s sedation.

I’ve got his attention now.

He’s hopping mad that he cannot find the rival gnatcatcher.


His face shows that he realizes he’s been duped.

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