Two years ago at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin I saw two life birds (among others) – Marsh and Sedge Wrens. These birds were significant because they meant I had seen every U.S. wren. My quest to see wrens began a year before that in Arizona. I had successfully found four wrens: Cactus, Canyon, Rock, and Bewick’s and realized I wanted to see all the wrens. Not just in the U.S., but ALL the wrens.
I purchased a book by David Brewer’s called Wrens, Dippers, and Thrashers. According to this book there are between 75 and 90 species of wrens, all found in the Americas except the Winter Wren. There are 9 total wrens in the U.S. and 5 found in northern Illinois: House, Carolina, Winter, Marsh, and Sedge (Bewick’s used to be and may return). The greatest concentrations of wrens are, like many families of birds, in the tropics of Central and South America. There are also may single species found on islands.
Just like most families of birds, there are several wrens that are facing serious declines because of, you guessed it, habitat destruction/degradation. No known full species of wren has been classified as extinct, but several sub-species have, including the race Salpinctes obsoletus exsul of the Rock Wren. This wren’s island home of San Benedicto erupted and is one of the few recent extinctions that was not caused by humans.
What is it about wrens that I love so much? They lack the gaudy colors of tropical tanagers, the wide varieties of the warblers, or the whimsical actions of wading birds. Instead wrens have mixes of brown hues, black and white that mesh perfectly well. In many respects it’s not their look but their attitude. Wrens are spunky and fun, bold and in your face, and while many have songs that are “harsh”, a great many are musical and unique.
Top 5 wrens by looks alone:
1. Giant Wren – the biggest and baddest of the lot
2. White-headed Wren – hardly looks like a wren at all
3. Band-backed Wren – a gray and white wren with rich cinnamon flanks and belly
4. Carolina Wren – richly colored in rufous and buff
5. Black-throated Wren – dark reddish brown with a black throat
Top 5 wrens by sound:
1. Cactus Wren – “harsh and unmusical”? I think not!
2. Canyon Wren – a descending voice that is acoustically vibrant in their canyon habitats
3. Sinaloa Wren – musical and fun
4. Northern Nightingale Wren – “amazing” “marvelous” “unmistakable and haunting”
5. Musician Wren – perhaps the most unique and fascinating song produced by a bird
Even as I quest to see all the wrens of the world, it is always a thrill when the House Wrens come back to nest at the Callaway Nature Preserve. Their energy, attitude and song continue through even the hottest days of summer.
Cool Wren (and other animal) sounds can be found at Cornell’s Macaulay Library.