California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica)
Within Coastal Sage Scrub habitats of the River Park, if one is lucky, one may hear the distinctive kitten-like mew of the California Gnatcatcher. These gnatcatchers are very small (about 4.25 inches long) and most of the year are a dull gray in color, so are easily overlooked. In the breeding season the male develops a jaunty black cap. They are charming and complex in behavior if one gets to know them (as I did firsthand over three years of study for my Master’s thesis).
California Gnatcatchers are non-migratory and spend their whole adult lives in a fairly small area. That area is defended more vigorously during the breeding season, when there is a nest to protect. Gnatcatchers are normally monogamous over their life-times, unless a mate is lost. In one instance in my studies, a “divorce” occurred, though, with a banded female taking up a new mate in the form of a younger male, with her banded mate being left out in the cold!
California Gnatcatchers are a federally threatened species, because of their reliance on the fast-disappearing Coastal Sage Scrub habitat. This necessary habitat also happens to be very easy to develop, so the populations of birds on protected lands, like in the River Park are especially precious.
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