Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris

By Andy McCormick

  • Length          5 in
  • Wingspan      6 in 
  • Weight           0.39 oz
  • AOU Band code    MAWR

Clark’s Nutcracker was named for Captain William Clark by Alexander Wilson who analyzed the skin brought to him following the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark initially thought the bird was a species of woodpecker but later it was classified as a jay. Sibley notes, “In some respects, [nutcrackers] are intermediate between jays and crows, because of their short tails, straight bills, and direct flight, and they walk rather than hop (jays always hop).” The genus name means nutbreaker, from Latin nucis, a nut, and frango, to break, shatter, smash. Columbiana, references the Columbia River area where the bird was found by Clark (Holloway).

Clark’s Nutcrackers inhabit mountain coniferous forests where they use their bills to extract seeds from cones of ponderosa, whitebark and pinyon pines. They store seeds by dropping them into a sublingual pouch with a slight backward toss of the head and upward thrust of the bill and then cache them in the ground, in cracks in trees and under bark (Tomback). The pouch can hold anywhere from 30-150 seeds depending on the type. Total number of seeds cached by a single bird in a summer-fall season can reach 30,000. The seed caches allow them to breed in the late winter even when snow covers the forest (Kaufman). 

Clark’s Nutcrackers have short tails for a Corvid but have long wings. Their gray bodies contrast with the black and white wings and tail. The long, straight bill is black as is the eye. Although similar, the Gray Jay has dark feathers on the head and does not have the black and white wings and tail. 

The nutcrackers are non-migratory but will move to lower elevations during poor cone-producing years. They have a great ability to relocate their caches which can be miles apart. These birds are most often found far from human habitation, but have learned that visiting campgrounds and picnic areas can be bountiful and will join humans for meals.

Their nest is constructed by both sexes at high elevation in coniferous trees. It is built on a platform constructed of twigs. The cup is deep and lined with bark strips and pine needles. Usually 2-4 pale green, lightly spotted eggs are deposited and incubated by both parents for 16-18 days. The young are fed from the previously stored seeds and take first flight in about three weeks. 

Clark’s Nutcrackers are part of an important ecosystem that includes the whitebark pine, the mountain pine beetle and grizzly bears. Clark’s Nutcrackers by caching pine seeds in the ground have contributed to seed dispersal for the whitebark pine and forest regeneration (Tomback). The seeds caches are raided by bears and other mammals which use them as an important food source. In recent years mountain pine beetle infestation has weakened trees and contributed to fires in whitebark pine forests in the northern Rocky Mountains and is now threatening the Cascade Range (Murray & Siderius). Flexibility in their choice of pine seeds has allowed Clark’s Nutcrackers to maintain a stable population.   

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Winter Wren

Troglodytes troglodytes

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length          4-4.5 in
  • AOU Band code    WIWR

The Winter Wren is a small, 4” to 4 ½”, round, dark wren, smaller than the more common Bewick’s Wren.  It has a very short tail, a light line over the eye, and brownish, heavily barred flanks.  It often bobs and bows.

Found in coniferous forests and woodland underbrush, it is a year-around resident on the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska.  It breeds in northern U.S., southern Canada, and the Alaska coast.

Its song is a rapid succession of high tinkling warbles and trills, and often ends on a very high, light trill.  The song lasts about 5 seconds, and is repeated 4 to 6 times a minute.  Its low double-call note, tick-tick, is distinctive.

Winter Wren by.jpg

House Wren

Troglodytes aedon

By Andy McCormick

  • Length           4.75 in
  • Wingspan      6 in
  • Weight:          0.39 oz
  • AOU Band code    HOWR

Like some little mountain spring … this little wren’s song bubbles, ripples, cascades in a miniature torrent of ecstasy (Blanchan 1903). 

As if comparing the effervescent song of the House Wren to a mountain spring was not enough, Louis Pierre Vieillot (1748-1831), a French ornithologist, compared it to the song of a nightingale. In doing so he provided its species name aedon, Greek for a nightingale. The story of Aedon is a Greek myth of a woman who suffered a tragedy when she accidentally killed her only child. Zeus took pity on her and turned her into a nightingale with a beautiful song and then Aedon had some joy in her life. The song of the House Wren is a loud, bubbly series of cascading down-slurred dry trills usually easy to recognize (Alderfer). 
Its song makes up for what the House Wren lacks in distinguishing plumage. The western birds of the species tend to have head, nape and back of a near uniform shade of brown with only a pale eye stripe (Johnson). The throat and chest are pale gray.

The Jenny Wren
Some call the House Wren the Jenny Wren (Dunne) and its song and friendly nature were incorporated into a nursery rhyme. 

As little Jenny Wren

Was sitting by the shed.

She waggled with her tail,

And nodded with her head.

She waggled with her tail,

And nodded with her head,

As little Jenny Wren

Was sitting by the shed.  

This usage is probably borrowed from the British, who use Jenny Wren as their familiar name for the Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes, one of three recent splits of the Winter Wren). The House Wren is in the genus Troglodytes, from the Greek troglodutes, one who creeps into holes, referring to the wren’s behavior of foraging around holes and crevices. 

Cohabitates with Humans
Almost any hole or crevice will suffice for a nesting spot for the House Wren. It is a cavity nesting bird traditionally found along the edge of mixed woodlands. It has adapted well to humans and are comfortable around homes and gardens in Eastern Washington and northern Puget Sound. They are not found often in Western Washington west of the Cascades. They seek out nooks and crannies in buildings and readily use nest boxes (Dunne). 

The male arrives first on the breeding ground and will begin building a series of “dummy” nests in several cavities. The female chooses one and finishes it before depositing 6-7 eggs. Incubation lasts about two weeks and the young leave the nest about two weeks after hatching. The diet for both young and adults is made up of insects including beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, moths and flies. Males will be very aggressive in defending their territory and will often puncture the eggs in nearby nests, including those of other House Wrens (Kaufman).

The House Wren population is stable and may be increasing in some areas to a great extent because of the bird’s affinity for human-made structures and the way gardens and city parks mimic its traditional habitat in open woodlands (Johnson).

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Canyon Wren

Catherpes mexicanus

By Andy McCormick

  • Length          5.75 in
  • Wingspan      7.5 in 
  • Weight           0.37 oz
  • AOU Band code    CANW