The 7 Wren Species in California! (ID Guide)
What species of wrens can you find in California?
Wrens are incredible birds and they inhabit many different habitats. Even though they are small, wrens are incredibly bold and don’t back down to other species that are much larger than them.
If you encounter one, you can expect to hear loud and complex songs. Once you know what to listen for, it’s easy to identify these birds before ever seeing them! And don’t worry, I have included a sample of the calls and sounds for each species below.
Below are the 7 types of wrens that live in California!
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#1. House Wren
The House Wren is common in California. Even though they almost never visit bird feeders, they are often seen zipping through backyards while hunting insects. A great way to draw these wrens to your yard is to create brush piles, which offer cover for them and places for insects to gather.
Appearance-wise, House Wrens are small, brown birds. They have a short tail, thin bill, and dark barring on their wings and tail. Both males and females look the same.
House Wren Range Map
House Wrens are commonly encountered by people when their nests are found in odd places. For example, when I was a kid, I remember we found a nest in a clothespin bag hanging outside. Before my mom could access her clothespins, she had to wait until the wrens had raised their young and abandoned the twig nest! Other weird spots for nests include boots, cans, or boxes.
To attract House Wrens to your backyard, try hanging a nest box, as these birds will readily use them to raise their young. Please pay attention to the entrance hole’s diameter and try not to make it any larger than 1 inch in diameter. By keeping the hole small, other birds can’t get inside to disturb the wren’s nest and babies. Interestingly, House Wrens are one of the only birds that will use a nest box hanging freely and not permanently attached to a tree or post.
House Wrens fight incredibly hard for the nest cavities they want. It’s common for them to peck at much larger birds. And if they really want a particular nesting location, they are even known to drag eggs or babies out so that they can move in.
Listen for House Wrens in California!
Press PLAY above to hear a House Wren!
One of the best ways to locate a House Wren is to listen for their distinctive song. The best way to describe it is a beautiful, energetic flutelike melody, consisting of very rapid squeaky chatters and rattles.
Lastly, make sure to read this interesting fact!
One problem that House Wrens have is that their nesting cavities can become infested with mites and other parasites, which can harm wren hatchlings. To combat this problem, spider egg sacs are brought into the nest by the parents. Once the baby spiders hatch, they feast on the parasites located in the nests, helping save the baby birds.
#2. Marsh Wren
Even though Marsh Wrens are common in California, they are not seen often by people. These birds live secret lives under cover of reeds in hard to reach places in marshes and swamps (as the name suggests).
Marsh Wrens have a round body with a short tail that is often pointing upwards. Look for a small bird that is rusty brown with black and white streaks down its back and a pale eyebrow. They are often seen clinging to reeds, with each foot grasping on to a different stalk!
Marsh Wren Range Map
Even though Marsh Wrens are tiny, they are incredibly fierce, aggressive, and active. Males typically mate with more than one female and build multiple nests for each female. They are even known to pierce eggs and kill nestlings of both Marsh Wrens and other birds.
Marsh Wrens are accomplished singers. (Press PLAY below)
These birds are hard to spot in the dense reeds in the habitats in which they live. You probably will have much better luck listening for them. Their songs typically consist of several introductory notes, then a trill of repeated syllables, and then a few concluding notes. The whole series of gurgling and buzzy trills only lasts a second or two, but they can repeat this and carry on for a LONG time.
Marsh Wrens are most vocal in the morning and just before sunset, so make sure to head out at these times if you want the best chance of observing one. Also, I have had good luck seeing these birds at parks or wildlife refuges that have an elevated boardwalk through the marsh, which helps greatly with visibility!
#3. Bewick’s Wren
Bewick’s Wrens are most often found in dry brushy or scrubby habitats within their range. The best way to identify them is to look for their white eyebrow and dark barring on the tail. As for their personality, these wrens are noisy and extremely active. It’s common to see them flicking their long tail sideways as they hop from branch to branch.
Bewick’s Wren Range Map
Bewick’s Wren populations have declined through the years, and one of the main reasons is increased numbers of House Wrens. Both of these birds are drawn to the same nest sites. Unfortunately, when competition arises, it’s the House Wren that typically wins, as they are known to destroy nests and eggs.
Press PLAY above to hear a Bewick’s Wren!
These wrens, like most species, are extremely vocal. The song that male Bewick’s Wrens sing varies from individual to individual and from geographic area to geographic area. The most common song you will hear has a pattern of a few introductory notes and ends with a high trill.
It’s possible to get them to visit your bird feeders.
If one of these wrens does show up, it will be in winter when insects are not around. The most common food you will see them eating is suet, but shelled sunflower seeds, peanuts, and mealworms are also consumed.
Lastly, if you have a suitable backyard habitat, you should try putting up a nest box. You may be able to attract a mating pair of Bewick’s Wrens to raise their young! The best entrance hole diameter to use for these birds is 1-1/8 inches.
#4. Rock Wren
Rock Wrens are pale brown birds that have a long tail and thin bill. If you look closely, you can small white speckles on their back and wings. Males and females look similar. Behavior-wise, it’s common to see them quickly bobbing up and down.
Rock Wren Range Map
These migratory wrens are found in rocky, arid areas of California.
Incredibly, Rock Wrens are not known to drink water. Instead, they get all of their moisture from their food, which consists of insects and spiders. They mostly hunt on the ground, probing around and under objects for prey with their thin bill.
Press PLAY above to hear a Rock Wren!
Rock Wrens are prolific singers! They have a large repertoire of songs, which can consist of 100 or more tunes! Interestingly, they can learn new sounds from other individuals. Listen for a mixture of buzzing trills and other musical phrases. When they are not singing, you may hear their common call, which sounds like “tic-keer.”
#5. Canyon Wren
Canyon Wrens are rusty brown birds with black barring that have a long tail and bill. To confirm their presence, look for their bright white throat and upper chest.
Canyon Wren Range Map
These wrens are common in California in dry, rocky areas. Look for them in places such as canyons, cliffs, boulder piles, and any rocky outcrop. These birds are perfectly adapted for these habitats, and they even have a slightly flattened skull, which helps them probe inside crevices as they look for food.
Canyon Wrens are at home in places without water because these birds don’t need to drink! They get all their moisture from the insects they eat. Even when they are near a water source, they are not seen drinking.
Press PLAY below to hear a Canyon Wren!
These wrens have a lovely song, often described as a series of descending, liquidy notes. These distinctive sounds are often heard echoing through the canyon walls in which they live!
#6. Pacific Wren
Pacific Wrens are most commonly found in coniferous forests, especially those with fir and spruce trees. These wrens are tiny with dark brown, barred upperparts and a light brown eyebrow. The tail is very short and most likely will be held upright.
Interestingly, Pacific Wrens and Winter Wrens were considered the same species until 2010, when scientists determined they were separate species.
Pacific Wren Range Map
Like most species of wrens, they eat insects, arthropods, and spiders. To find their prey, they mainly forage on the ground and along stream banks. Look for them hopping on logs and exposed roots as they are checking crevices and beneath bark for food.
Press PLAY above to hear a Pacific Wren!
The Pacific Wren is probably best known for their incredible singing abilities. Listen for a series of sweet mystical trills and chatters, which typically last between 5 and 10 seconds. They can string together as many as 50 phrases into one song!
#7. Cactus Wren
Cactus Wrens are common in the deserts of California. Look for a rather large wren with a long tail and long bill, but short rounded wings. They are beautiful birds with their distinctive bright white eyebrow, brown spotted belly, and a brown and white streaked back.
Cactus Wren Range Map
These birds are known for their active and bold personalities. If you spend enough time in their range, you are almost guaranteed to see them as they are always up to something. They can be found doing any number of things, such as singing from the top of a cactus, chasing each other around, mobbing predators that come to close, and fanning their tails.
Cactus Wrens are true desert birds and don’t need to drink water, since they can obtain all their moisture from the insects, spiders, and fruit that they eat. It’s also common for them to take a dust bath on the dry, dusty ground before heading to their nightly roost.
Press PLAY below to hear a Cactus Wren!
If you’re in the desert and you hear a noise that sounds like a car won’t start, you may be hearing a Cactus Wren. These birds omit a loud, harsh, raspy series of “guah guah guah” notes, which gains in speed towards the end of the four-second song.
What wrens have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!