The Bewick’s Wren Is More Than Just Another Wren
by Ro Wauer
Although the larger and more common Carolina wren is far better known in our area, the little, long-tailed Bewick’s wren can more than hold its own. Although Bewick's wrens seldom reside in our larger towns, they are commonplace in our surrounding oak woodlands. It has been described as a thicket and brush bird. And Oberholser's classic book, The Bird Life of Texas, states that "It seems to thrive best in hilly, semiarid localities."
This time of year, Bewick's wrens are in full song, defending nesting sites with considerable energy. Males spend much of the day singing their spirited songs throughout their territories. Perhaps it is their singing that is most appealing; their rollicking songs seem to go on and on with little let up. The songs have been described as clear and variable, loud and musical, and often ending with a high-pitched buzzing sound. Studies have shown that Bewick's wrens sing sixteen different songs, and often sing forty to fifty repetitions of one song before switching to the next.
Bewick's wrens (pronounced like the Buick car) are little brown to gray birds with obvious white eyelines, whitish underparts, and a long tail with a white tip. They were named by early ornithologist and painter John Audubon for English engraver Thomas Bewick. It is a perky bird that often waves its tail back and forth and cocks the tail upright. Although it normally is shy and secretive, it can also be found singing from high open posts. When nesting they utilize cavities, including holes in trees, shrubs and posts, and even brush piles and among upturned tree roots. One of the strangest nest sites was in the bed of a pickup truck. According to Kent Rylander's book, The Behavior of Texas Birds, the pair "continued to attend the nest, even though the pickup was taken to town for an hour or so each day." He also pointed out that males often build dummy nests to fool predators.
Texas has nine species of wrens, although only four nest in our area, the Carolina, Bewick's, cactus, and marsh wrens. Five additional species nest in Texas to the west and/or north of our area or are present in Texas only as migrants and/or winter residents only. Of our other nesting Texas wrens, the cactus wren is resident in the southern and western portion of our area, but is especially common in the Trans-Pecos where it often builds nests in the protection of spiny shrubs and cactuses. The marsh wren nests in Texas wetlands only along the Gulf Coast region; it prefers cattail dominated marshes. Once known as long-billed marsh wren, it is reddish with white streaks on the back and a white eyeline.
Rock, canyon, and house wrens also nest within the state. Rock and canyon wrens are especially common in the western portion of Texas and locally in the Edwards Plateau. The rock wren is a grayish little bird that has a habit of bobbing up and down. The canyon wren, a reddish bird with white underparts, is most memorable for its loud descending song that is so common in the canyons of Big Bend National Park. House wrens nest only in northern Texas along the Canadian River and in the highlands of the Davis and Guadalupe mountains of the Trans-Pecos. However, this little bird has an extensive range throughout most of North America, and it is one of the best known of all the wrens.
Winter and sedge wrens occur in Texas only as migrants and winter residents; they nest considerably north of the state. The winter wren is the smallest of all our wrens, and it is best identified by its very small size, reddish plumage, and extremely short tail. And finally, the sedge wren, formerly known as short-billed marsh wren, is similar to the marsh wren but with a streaked crown. It can be common in the coastal prairies in winter.
Wrens all belong to the same family of Troglodytidae, a Greek name for those who creep into holes, a cave dweller. There are 59 species of avian Troglodites, all found in the Western Hemisphere. Only one - the winter wren, know simply as "wren" - occurs in Europe.