Bewick's Wren, Our Second Breeding Wren
by Ro Wauer
Because the Carolina wren is so common around our neighborhoods and is vocal much of the time, our second breeding wren gets very little attention. However, it too is a songster, and with a repertoire equal to that of the Carolina wren. Bewick's wrens, pronounced Buick's like the car, is somewhat smaller and less colorful. The Carolina wren sports deep rusty-brown upperparts, with white spots and streaks on the wings and a broad white eyeline, and buffy underparts. The smaller Bewick's wren is comparatively drab with a longer, barred tail and narrower white eyeline. Two races of Bewick's wrens occur in the Coastal Bend, the reddish eastern form and the browner western form. Those in my yard and adjacent woodlands represent the western birds. There are two additional breeding wrens that can be found in the Coastal Bend, but occur only in select habitats. The marsh wren utilizes cattail marsh areas, while the cactus wren frequents more arid areas in the western and southern portion of the Coastal Bend. And three additional wrens only winter in our area: house, winter, and sedge wrens.
There are a number of similarities between the Carolina and Bewick's wrens. Both are great songsters, often singing loudly much of the day, especially during their nesting season. Carolina wren songs usually are exceptionally melodious, often written as a clear "teakettle tea-kettle teakeetle" or "cherry cherry cheery." Even in winter, Carolina wrens seem to enjoy starting each day with a spirited chorus. Bewick's wrens are equally vocal during the breeding season, although they usually vocalize less in winter. Their songs have been described as "a high, thin buzz and warble, similar to that of a song sparrow." The song of a Bewick's wren includes a highly complex series of phrases, and often is extremely musical.
The behavior of the Carolina and Bewick's wrens is also similar in many ways. Both spend much of their time prowling about crevices and crannies in search of insects, spiders, and such. They both seem to "crawl" about tree trunks and large branches, live and dead foliage, and will occasionally fly out after a flying insect. Since both possess a rather long, sturdy bill, they will often gather up numerous insects and other invertebrates in their bill before flying back to a nest to feed their youngsters. Their long bill also allows them to capture and dispose of scorpions and bees without being stung.
There are a few differences between the two wrens, however. The Carolina wren, as most homeowners are well aware of, will build its nest in an amazing variety of open areas, ranging from flowerpots to various items left on a clothesline. I find it necessary to clean out my outdoor flower pots constantly if I don't want a Carolina wren nest to overcome the pot and its contents. The Bewick's wren, on the other hand, is a cavity nester that utilizes various cavities in trees, shrubs, fence posts, and the like. They will take advantage of bluebird houses on occasions, and they will even utilize dense brush piles as well as deserted shoes and drainpipes. Also, while Carolina wrens are well known for producing two, three, or more broods annually, Bewick's wrens usually produce a single brood each year.
Another difference between these two wrens it their habitat preferences. Carolina wrens seem to get along extremely well in our backyards and being close to human occupation, although they do equally well is brushy, overgrown areas far away from our homes. Bewick's wrens, at least those that occur within the Coastal Bend region, are seldom far from areas dominated live oaks, probably because these oaks often possess cavities for nesting.
Bewick's wrens have only recently begun to nest in my neighborhood near Mission Valley, although they have been present in adjacent oak woodlands for many years. They both are fascinating birds, and you might want to check your wrens to see if you too have Bewick's wrens.