- 86 species: 85 (or more) in New World, one in Old World (unless it is split into more)
- DR personal total: 49 species (58%), 16 photo'd
wrens are a (almost entirely) New World group of small, active
songbirds. Individual wrens can often be hard to see, but they are
"always, it seems, dominating the soundscape" (Kroodsma & Brewer
2004). The beautiful cascading song of Canyon Wren
(left), for example, brings life to the arid canyon country of the
southwestern United States. It is found primarily in steep-walled
canyons, and its characteristic and spirit-stirring song echoes between
those canyon walls. It is the sound of the Grand Canyon, among other spectacular gorges.
Two close relatives — Sumichrast's Wren Hyorchilus sumichrasti and Nava's Wren H. navai
— are very local Mexican endemics. It was the Canyon-Wren-like song
that helped us find Sumichrast's among the boulders in coffee-planted
hills of Vera Cruz, and it was thrilling when the songster itself
finally emerged. It is the song of the wren that lingers.
good many of the wrens are adapted to desert county, including a good
percentage of the striking black-and-white barred wrens in genus Campylorhynchus. An excellent example is Bouchard's Wren
(right), almost entirely restricted to the states of Oaxaca and
Guerrero. Its habitat is arid thorn-scrub forest with giant cacti. Its
Spanish language name implies it eats scorpions, but not enough is
known about its lifestyle to say whether this is true.
Its relative, the well-known Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
of the American Southwest — whose low harsh song is a background
standard in Western movies — eats a wide variety of small prey,
including wasps, grasshoppers, and small lizards. Plus "some
individuals learn to pry squashed insects from car radiator grills"
(Kroodsma & Brewer 2005).
|Widespread across North America, House Wren
(left) is a familiar garden bird. Its bubbly song can dominate a spring
walk in riparian habitat in the West, and it builds nests in a wide
assortment of spots [unused mailboxes, planter-boxes, or a discarded
hat!) in the East. The taxonomy of House Wrens is muddled. Some years
ago the AOU lumped "Brown-throated Wren," whose Mexican range reaches
s.e. Arizona, with the widespread House Wren, then considered to be a
ubiquitous species throughout the New World. Dickinson (2003) listed 32
subspecies for Troglodytes aedon from Canada to the Falkland Islands. Kroodsma & Brewer (2005) started segmenting some of these into species, calling T. aedon "Northern House Wren" but splitting many Neotropical populations as Southern House Wren T. musculus. They even resplit Brown-throated Wren T. brunneicollis, plus split out wrens on Clarion I., Cozumel I., and the Falklands [T. tanneri, beani, and cobbi, respectively]. They did not, however, split very distinctive Caribbean populations, like the ones on Grenada [T. a. grenadensis];
those wrens were very noticeably different to my eye during a one-day
stop on Grenada. Dickinson (2004) concedes that splits are due in the
Caribbean. There is still a lot to learn about the House Wren.
|The other very widespread Troglodytes
wren has been called simply "the Wren" in Eurasia — where it is the
only member of the family to reach the Old World — and Winter Wren in
North America. Recent biochemical analysis suggests that there may be
up to six different clades of this wren (summarized in Kroodsma &
Brewer 2005), and that western and eastern populations in North America
act as to biological species where they meet in the Canadian Rockies
(Toews & Irwin 2008). At this writing (March 2010) it is rumored
that the AOU will split the American populations this coming July. The "ear-birding"
blog has a very good analysis of differences in calls and song between
the North American taxa. If this does occur, the one nesting here in
California will be called Pacific Wren; this photo
(right) is of a just-fledged youngster with gular flanges. It is
overall very dark rusty-brown, characteristic of this western group.
has shown that the song vocalizations of wrens are learned, at least in
common North American species (see Kroodsma & Brewer 2005). One of
those impressive singers inhabit marshes: the widespread Marsh Wren
(left) that breeds across North America. Males defend territories and
build a plethora of dummy 'nests' to attract females. The songs are
quite different between western and eastern populations. It is not
improbable that they, too, will be split into two or more species.
The only known exception to the rule that songs are learned in wrens involves the North American populations of Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis.
Laboratory experiments that complemented field research showed that
each nestling Sedge Wren improvises his own unique song, and no two are
exactly alike (more in Kroodsma & Brewer 2005).
within the Troglodytidae were considered in the biochemical research by
Barker (2004), and the relationship of the wrens to other families
explored in Barker et al. (2004). Their closest relatives appear to be
gnatcatchers. A very odd Amazonian species, Tooth-billed Wren Odontorchilus cinereus, acts much like a gnatcatcher. [Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla,
which has traditionally been considered an odd wren in Amazonia, is
actually an ancient relict of Old World grassbirds, and is best placed
in its own family.]
Many wrens are found in the Neotropics. At least 27 are assigned to genus Thryothorus.
These are real skulkers in undergrowth thickets, many in humid lowland
rainforest, and they are found mostly by their songs. Another group
found by song are three species of wood-wrens. White-breasted Wood-Wren
Henicorhina leucosticta is a very common lowland species from Mexico to Peru and Brazil. Its highland equivalent is Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (right), which ranges from Mexico to Bolivia (photographed here in Costa Rica).
are some astonishing wrens that live in the shadows on the floor of
tropical lowland rainforest, making them very difficult to observe. But
these wrens have fabulous vocal abilities. This quality appears in the
names given to some of them, such as Nightingale Wren Microcerculus philomela, Flutist Wren M. usutulas, and Song Wren Cyphorhinus phaeocephalus.
My favorite of these is Musician Wren
(below, photo © Arthur Grosset), widespread in the Amazon Basin
and scattered among a number of subspecies (this one below is interpositus).
Both sexes sing antiphonally, giving a fast, clear, haunting set of
whistles, varying greatly in pitch, and switching between different
motifs. Anthropologically it sounds like a little miniature boy
whistling as he walks through the forest — one can believe it the
existence of elves because of this marvelous wren.
Photos: The Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus was photographed on 13 Apr 2006 in Anza-Borrego State Park, California. The Bouchard's Wren Camphyorhynchus jocosus at the Tehuacan pueblos, Oaxaca, Mexico, on 20 Dec 1995. The House Wren Troglodytes aedon parkmanii was at Pacific Grove, California, USA, on 1 Feb 2009. The fledgling Western [Winter] Wren Troglodytes pacificus was at Moss Landing, California, on 29 June 2009. The Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris was on territory in Sierra Valley, Plumas Co., California, on 19 June 1999. The Gray-breasted Wood-Wren Henicorhina leucophrys was at Mirador Cinchona, Costa Rica, on 19 Dec 2007. Arthur Grosset photographed the Musician Wren Cyphorhinus aradus at Rio Cristalino, Brazil, in Dec 2006; see Arthur's many spectacular photos on his website. Photos © Don Roberson, except those attributed © Arthur Grosset, and used with permission; all rights reserved.
There is no "family book" per se, but a quite entertaining introduction
to this family, with some truly spectacular photos, is in Kroodsma
& Brewer (2005).
F.K. 2004. Monophyly and relationships of wrens (Aves: Troglodytidae):
a congruence analysis of heterogeneous mitochondrial and nuclear DNA
sequence data. Mol. Phylog. Evol. 31: 486–504.
F.K., A. Cibois, P. Schikler, J. Feinstein, and J. Cracraft. 2004.
Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. 101: 11040–11045.
ed. 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the
World. 3d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.
Kroodsma, D.E., and D. Brewer. 2005. Family Troglodytidae (Wrens), pp. 356–447 in
Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A.
Christie, eds). Vol. 10. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
D.P.L., and D.E. Irwin. 2008. Cryptic speciation in a Holarctic
passerine revealed by genetic and bioacoustic analyses. Molecular
Ecology 17: 2691-2705.