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Monday, April 17, 2017

The Zen of Wrens

Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus

Wrens are small to medium-sized birds, generally drab in color, typically grayish-brown with barring in the wings and tail.  But oh, when they sing, they have loud, melodious, and often complex songs!  Active and vocal, they frequently carry their tails in an upright position, and have adapted well to the presence of humans.  Some of the species of wrens that can be found in our area include Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii), and Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus).

Deep cinnamon brown above and warm buff below, with a white throat and prominent white stripe above the eye, the Carolina Wren is a vivacious bird common in moist woodlands and wooded suburbs.  Males sing year round and are known to have a repertoire of about 32 songs, the most common being ‘cheery cheery cheery!’ and ‘teakettle-teakettle!’ This bird is routinely seen around yards, garages, porches, and woodpiles, often nesting in those same places.  Pairs stay bonded year around, and often raise multiple broods a year.

Bewick's Wren, Thryomanes bewickii

A subdued brown and gray bird with a white eye stripe, gray-white underparts, and a long tail barred with black and tipped with white spots describes the Bewick’s Wren.  It typically flicks its tail from side to side or fans it as it skulks through tangles of branches and leaves, searching for food. Nimble and acrobatic, it often hangs upside down from tree branches and leaves. While it favors dry, brushy areas, it is often found inhabiting gardens, residential areas, and parks.  The male has a repertoire of up to 22 songs, usually beginning with two or more high, quick notes, dropping into a lower, buzzy phrase, and ending on a high trill.  Courting birds normally form monogamous pairs.

Canyon Wren, Catherpes mexicanus

The Canyon Wren has a white throat and breast, chestnut belly, brown back flecked in black, and a bright rufous, barred tail.  It prefers areas with rocky cliffs, canyons, outcrops, and boulder piles but it will often build its nest in stone buildings or chimneys.  This wren has a slightly flattened skull and a vertebral column attached higher on the skull, and these adaptations allow it to thrust its bill forward into tight cracks without bumping its head.  While its repertoire consists of only 3 songs, its most common is an exquisitely beautiful descending cascade of liquid notes.

Wrens are mainly insectivores and are often found hopping about, climbing short walls and tree trunks, or making brief flights to search out and glean insects from crevices and cracks.  In fact, their family name Troglodytidae is derived from troglodyte, meaning ‘cave-dweller’, generally referring to the places in which they forage.  Their fairly long and slender, straight to slightly decurved bills assist them in exploring every nook and cranny for insects and spiders.

This spring, take the time to listen to the highly variable, sweet sounding, rollicking songs of these little birds.  Get in tune with their amusing antics, and discover for yourself the zen of wrens!