Wren Love

Wren Love: Pacific Wren Courtesy US  FWS Peter Pearshall, Photographer
Pacific Wren
Courtesy US FWS
Peter Pearshall, Photographer
With Valentine ’s Day imminent, I must profess my love for wrens.

A recent snowshoe slog with friends in a nearby canyon brought us face to face with a glorious panel of 30 foot ice colonnades running down quartzite cliffs. We stood in awe of their crystalline beauty. Near the ice wall, small birds were flitting in and out of vertical crevices. I began counting- a dozen or more. There is only one bird in mid-winter that could fit the bill, a canyon wren. Possibly my favorite on the long list of wren species for their stunning beauty, and unique, descending melody to match their vertical realm, to sooth my nerves as I climb in their domain.

Never before had I seen more than a pair, usually solos. This was entirely new and totally unexpected, to have such numbers of mature wrens occupying the same space. I’ve since searched the literature and found nothing describing such behavior.

Moving on to another near favorite, the winter, or Pacific wren, is always a treat on winter outings. These smallest of the wren family remind me of feathered mice. They spend much of their time in thick brush or tree roots near or in the ground. Like all wrens, they are grand vocalists who release a rapid, lengthy string of phrases. Like all wrens, Pacific’s are very high energy in constant motion. They emit a tiny “chit” note when alarmed, similar to that of a ruby crowned kinglet, but unlike kinglets, very secretive darting in and out of their hideaways. I may have been the first to report them nesting in Cache Valley some 20 years ago. Now they populate most of our watered canyons in the Bear River Range.

Moving out to the valley wetlands, there are usually a few marsh wrens who overwinter. These nervous chatterers will build a spectacular conical nest of cattails and bulrush lined with cattail down come spring. It’s the male who performs the duty, actually building several to confuse predators and attract a female. She will inspect his architectural abilities, and if pleased, receive his seed, then insult him by dismantling a nest and rebuilding it to her liking.

I must travel down state to the St. George Mojave desert to visit another rival wren for the top spot. The cactus wren has a long rolling unmistakable muffled chatter. They are our largest wren species and no less nervous than the others. They too have an unusual nesting behavior, which involves a very prickly plant- the cholla. Their nest reminds me of the marsh wrens, only made of very different materials as cattail and bulrush are hard to come by where they occupy. Similar to the marsh wren, the male builds multiple “dummy nests” which he will continue, even after the female is sitting on the nest- expending nervous energy I recon!
I must apologize for two others as I’m out of space- rock wrens and the “jenny” or house wren- definitely worthy of note.

Happy Valentines Day to all wren lovers and others!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon- and we are Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS, Peter Pearshall, Photographer
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability & Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading:

Cane, James, Songs of the Western Meadowlark and Canyon Wren, Wild About Utah, Nov 5, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/songs-of-the-western-meadowlark-and-canyon-wren/

Cane, James, Songs of the Western Meadowlark, Poorwill and Canyon Wren, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/songs-of-the-western-meadowlark-poorwill-and-canyon-wren/

Wrens, Browse by Shape, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse/shape/Wrens

Songs of the Western Meadowlark, Poorwill and Canyon Wren

Songs of the Western Meadowlark, Poorwill and Canyon Wren

Everyone recognizes bird-watchers by their binoculars. Bird-listening, on the other hand, takes nothing more than your ears, and attention to Nature’s sounds. Listening for bird songs may require your concentration at first, but soon it becomes second nature. Some common birds of Utah are more easily found and known by their song than their appearance.

The Canyon Wren is one of my favorites. This tiny cinnamon-brown bird weighs little more than a marshmallow, but it belts out a cascading song big enough to reverberate off the rocky cliffs and slopes that are its home.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the South West Canyon Country, 7loons.com]

You may not see the canyon wren, but try conversing with it by whistling its song in reply. Listen year-round for its song throughout Utah and our neighboring states, particularly in canyons with rocky walls.

Nocturnal birds are seldom seen but commonly heard. Owls are an obvious example, but so is the

Common Poorwill, a migrant whose call is diagnostic throughout Utah.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills, 7loons.com]

Poorwills are camouflaged ground-nesters. On summer evenings, though, you may occasionally see them settled on pavement, their eyes reflecting headlight beams, looking like glowing coals.

Bird song can help distinguish between related bird species too. On the eastern Great Plains, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks co-occur. The plumage of these two starling-sized species is nearly identical, but their songs differ dramatically. The eastern species sings but a few clear notes, but our western meadowlark sings a beautiful musical warble.

[Kevin Colver recording: Birds of the South West Canyon Country, 7loons.com]

Meadowlarks reside here year-round, typically in grassy areas, pastures and foothills. Their backs are brown, but the male’s chest is a brilliant lemon yellow. Males are frequently seen singing their cheerful song atop a fence post. And that is another reason for listening to birds, for the sheer pleasure of their song.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Graphics: Courtesy US FWS images.fws.gov
Recordings: Kevin Colver, 7loons.com
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Songs of the Western Meadowlark and Canyon Wren

Western Meadowlark
Sturnella neglecta
Courtesy US FWS,
John & Karen Hollingsworth,
Photographers, images.fws.gov

Everyone recognizes bird-watchers by their binoculars. Bird-listening, on the other hand, takes nothing more than your ears, and attention to Nature’s sounds. Listening for bird songs, then, may require your concentration at first, but soon it will become second nature. Some common birds of Utah are more easily found and known by their song than their appearance.
The Canyon Wren is one of my favorites. Its song is unique in North America. This tiny cinnamon-brown bird weighs little more than a marshmallow, but it belts out a cascading song big enough to reverberate off the rocky cliffs and slopes that are its home. You may not see the canyon wren, but try conversing with it by whistling its song in reply. I listen year-round for its song throughout Utah and our neighboring states, particularly in mid-elevation canyons.

Bird song can help you distinguish related bird species too. On the Great Plains, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks co-occur. The plumage of these two starling-sized species is nearly identical, but their songs differ dramatically. The eastern species sings but a few clear notes, but our western meadowlark sings a beautiful musical warble.

Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
Courtesy & Copyright © 2007,
Lou Giddings, Photographer
utahbirds.org

Meadowlarks reside here year-round, typically in grassy areas, pastures and foothills. Their backs are brown, but the male’s chest is a brilliant yellow the color of fall aspen leaves. Males are frequently seen singing atop a fence post. Hearing a meadowlark always makes me smile, they seem so cheery. And that is another reason for listening to birds, for the sheer enjoyment of their song.

In the months to come, we will bring you more of Kevin Colver’s fine bird recordings to enjoy, interpret and learn. These are music lessons that everyone can enjoy!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photos: Western meadowlark, Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Canyon Wren, Copyright © 2007 Lou Giddings, Utahbirds.org

Recordings: Kevin Colver, 7loons.com

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading: