Bird Lore: Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren (Photo by Carol Riddell)

The Pacific Wren is a fairly common, often noisy, but secretive woodland bird. It is a year-round resident of forests along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California. It favors thick understory such as sword ferns, salal, fallen logs and brush piles. Look or listen for this wren in any of the forested parks of Edmonds or in your yard if you have appropriate native vegetation and, perhaps, a brush pile.

The Pacific Wren will fly short distances in the understory, using rapid wingbeats. Its movement has been described as mouselike as it scurries and hops along fallen trees and roots. This wren often bobs its head or entire body, even when standing still. It is an insectivore that consumes ants, beetles, caterpillars, true bugs, spiders, mites, ticks, flies and bees. It hops slowly, on or just above the ground, searching crevices, decaying wood, and vegetation for food. It will sometimes eat berries, probably in fall and winter.

The male defends its nesting territory with song. In courtship, the male perches near the female. With his wings fluttering and half opened, he spreads his tail and moves from side to side while singing. The male may have more than one mate. The nest site can be in any natural cavity close to the ground. Sites include holes among the upturned roots of downed trees, old woodpecker holes, cavities in rotten stumps, crevices among rocks, and holes in stream banks. It has also been known to nest under cabin porches.

Both sexes build the nest of grasses, weeds, mosses, and small roots and line it with feathers and animal hair. The female usually lays five to six eggs. She alone incubates them and does so for about two weeks. Both sexes feed the nestlings. The young leave the nest about 19 days after hatching. This species will have one to two broods per year.

The oldest known Pacific Wren was a female at least 6 years and 6 months of age. She was banded in California in 2003 and then recaptured in the same state in 2008. Not only Bald Eagles are attracted to spawning salmon. The Pacific Wren will congregate along streams to feed off the abundance of insects that are attracted to salmon carcasses. It will also congregate in night roosts during cold weather. It is a tiny bird that weighs less than half an ounce. Collective nouns for all wrens are herd and chime.

You can listen to the Pacific Wren’s song, an ensemble of rising and falling warbles and trills, here: Its winter call is here:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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