Bewick’s Wren – A hidden Bay Area bird worth seeking!

October 7, 2007 on 2:47 pm | In Daily Local Birder | 8 Comments

Image of Bewick's Wren

Greetings Birders!
Did you like the game of hide-and-seek as a child? If so, then birding for wrens will likely strike you as extra fun. As a clan, they are some of the Bay Area’s most secretive little birds, more often heard than seen. A flash of clay or chestnut in the scrub or reeds, the flick of a tail, the glimpse of a bright black eye, tantalizing the birder who will stand there for minutes at a time, yearning to make a correct identification.

Today, we’ll turn our gaze on Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii, one of the larger SF Bay Area Wrens. My Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, says Bewick’s Wren is a year-round resident, but I see the bird so sporadically, I can’t confirm this from my own experience, and Sibley has been wrong on occasion in this regard. Measuring an average of 5.25″ from beak to tail, Bewick’s Wren, like most wrens, will instantly strike you as being ‘all-tail’. With the exception of the Winter Wren, which looks like it has almost no tail, wrens have some of the most splendid, striped tails on the local birding scene. Identification clue number one for wrens is that they tend to hold their tails up-turned, as if proud of their lovely plumes.

Again, like most wrens, their movements through the brush are flickering, turning this way and that, seeming to flash from branch to branch rather than flap or fly. Whenever I see Bewick’s Wren, I am struck by how nuthatch-like he is, not only in his movements, but in his overall shape. The long beak, small oval body and stiff tail are all reminiscent of the White-breasted Nuthatch. The Brown Creeper also comes strongly to mind when looking at wrens.

Color is very important in identifying wrens. Some are a rich, burnished copper, others a duller brown. Bewick’s Wren’s overall hue is somewhat muddy, with gleams of chestnut in his long tail. But the most important identification mark on this bird is his prominent white eyebrow. It stands out quite clearly from his brown and grey tones, and the other thing to observe is the overall plainness of his back and shoulders which are unmarked.

Image of Marsh Wren
Comparing Bewick’s Wren to the Marsh Wren
At right, you will see my illustration of a Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris. I felt it would be helpful for local birders to compare these 2 birds to see the differences between them. Wren identification can be challenging for new birders, because all wrens tend to be brownish, striped beings. In differentiating between these 2 wrens, you will have two big clues:

1) Markings – Scroll back and forth between the Marsh Wren and Bewick’s Wren. Yes, they both have those white eyebrows. But look at the backs of the birds. The black striped patch of the Marsh Wren instantly confirms who he is, and lets you see how much plainer the Bewick’s Wren is by comparison. Overall, the rich chestnut tones of the smaller Marsh Wren are much more vivid than the soft browns of Bewick’s.

2) Habitat – This is a major factor. Bewick’s Wren inhabits the understorey brush of coniferous and deciduous forests, where he is at home with his secretive habits, hiding amongst bracken. By contrast, the Marsh Wren’s name correctly identifies his home – in the reeds around ponds and in wetlands.

Other local wrens include the House Wren and the Winter Wren. Each has it’s own markings and habitat. So, very often, getting a correct I.D. involves the birder asking, “where are the stripes?” and, “what is the habitat I’m in?”

Further field notes on Bewick’s Wren
Though not quite as much like the old electric-typewriter-gone-haywire calls of the Marsh Wren, the Bewick’s Wren’s song is complex, consisting of metallic trills and buzzes, not exactly musical, but very fascinating to hear in the forest. The long, down-curved beak of this bird is an important tool, as you might guess, enabling him to pry into crevices and along the ground for insects and spiders. Bewick’s Wrens nest in cavities or holes and 4-7 white or pink speckled eggs are common. Patience and good ear birding are often your best tools in honing in on this charming and interesting local bird.

Where to see Bewick's Wren in Sonoma County
Where to see Bewick’s Wren in Sonoma County
As the accompanying map will show, Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California, yet again proves itself superior birding habitat when it comes to Bewick’s Wren. When you go through the toll booth, turn right into the upper parking lot, drive to the far end of the lot and park near the narrow trail entrance by the eucalyptus grove. In addition to being great woodpecker habitat, and a good spot for migratory warblers, this grove of trees has become our likely spot for Bewick’s Wren. About halfway between the entrance of this short trail and the ‘t’ it comes to out in the sun at the end of it, on the left hand side of the path, there is a scrubby area where we have repeatedly seen a pair of Bewick’s Wrens, and with patience, have gotten excellent up close views. Bring a picnic, bring your birding binoculars and have a fabulous day in this wonderful park.

It’s October now, so keep an eye out in the park for Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Oak Titmice, Stellar’s Jays, Pileated, Downy, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpeckers, Flickers, the last of the Western Tanagers, Western Bluebirds and White-breasted Nuthatches. Soon, the fantastic Varied Thrushes should be flying into the park. Last year – the winter 2006/2007 season – was an irruptive year for the Varied Thrush, bringing us more of these birds than normal, and Jack London State Park was literally spangled with them. Oh, things are getting exciting in the birding world this month. Keep your eyes open!


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  1. Hi Miriam,
    Today we saw a large flock that looks similar to your bird, but his underside is spotted almost like a European Starling. He also had a long dark beak,triagular wing tips when in flight, and seemed mostly dark on the top of his body. It’s song was very metallic and chattery. They were up in the tops of our pine trees and were similar in size to the larger cones, maybe 5″. They flew away as a flock, and back as a flock. We have an audio clip that we will post soon. Hope you can help!


    Comment by Bosco1 — October 11, 2007 #

  2. Hi,

    I am totally new to birding and just found your site. I’m super excited to have found you. I live very close to Piner/Fulton Rd in Santa Rosa. What got me interested in learning about local birds is – every fall about this time of the year we get a bird in our yard that has the most facinating call – three very clear notes that decend. It sounds like someone is whistling. The coolest thing is that if you return the bird’s call, it will whistle to you agin. Usually it stays until late spring and leaves for the summer. For years I haven’t even seen one – just heard them, but I finally saw one – a very unassuming grey brown bird perched at the top of our mulberry tree. I have been looking on the internet and have not yet been able to identify this bird. Do you have any idea what it is – or maybe point me in the right direction for finding out?

    I love your site and plan on reading regularly.



    Comment by saffron — October 19, 2007 #

  3. Hi Rebecca, and welcome to Birding Sonoma County!

    I’m so glad you found us, and am happy to tell you that I am 99% positive you are hearing the White-Crowned Sparrow.

    If you are a musician, the 3 descending notes on the piano or other instrument would be in the nature of A – G – E. Yes, it sounds exactly like a human whistle, and yes, they will call back to you! Very good observations on your your part.

    They grey-brown look you are describing means you are seeing either females or young birds. When the male is mature, he develops a very distinctive black/white striped head. See if you can find him around where you are seeing the plainer birds.

    Here is the link to our White-crowned sparrow article:

    After you read that, you might like to search Flickr or some other photo sharing site for images of juvenile or female birds.

    *The one thing that won’t help, usually, is listening to sounds of bird calls, like the ones at Cornell. East Coast birds do not sound like West Coast ones. Our White-Crowned Sparrows have their own dialect, so to speak!

    I hope this reply helps you, and that you’ll check back here for more birding information in the future. Happy Birding!

    Comment by info — October 19, 2007 #

  4. Three descending clear notes is the song of the Golden-Crowned Sparrow, not the White-Crowned Sparrow. The White-Crowned Sparrow song is variable, but can sometimes be identified as one clear whistled note, followed by a more complex trill.

    Comment by kschnei — October 26, 2007 #

  5. Hi Kschnei,
    I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’m not sure whether you are a west coaster or an east coaster. To my observation, here in east Sonoma County, the White-crowned sparrows do, indeed, make a descending 3 note call. They also make a variation on the ‘poor sam peabody’ that really sounds nothing like the east coast call at all. And, sometimes, they break off in mid-call, both of the 3 note and peabody call. They have several other sounds, as well.

    It is interesting that White-crowned Sparrows have so many regional variations…perhaps Golden-crowned Sparrows do, too? This is one of the reasons it can be difficult to identify calls when you visit different regions of the U.S.

    Are you in the Bay Area? I believe the person who asked the original question is.

    Comment by info — October 26, 2007 #

  6. I’m SO GLAD you did an article on the Bewick’s Wren! As I had mentioned in a comment on a different thread here, I watched one “flit” around our front yard for a good 15 minutes several weeks ago. I wanted to tell you how very apt your description of their movements as “seeming to flash from branch to branch acting very much like a nuthatch” is!

    For sheer “entertainment value”, the Bewicks exhibit some of the most delightful behaviors I have thus far encountered in any of our little, avian friends! :)

    Comment by theflowerlady — October 30, 2007 #

  7. Hi Flowerlady,
    I’m so glad you liked this post. I agree…Bewick’s Wrens are an absolute delight to watch! And their sounds are like little wooden noisemakers. I feel lucky to have seen these birds a number of times in good viewing habitat.

    Now, as for the Winter Wren, I’ve only had one brief glimpse of him ever. Maybe I’ll get another chance in the coming months!

    Thanks for taking the time to post your comment. It’s always nice to see you here!

    Comment by info — October 30, 2007 #

  8. Our little Bewick’s wren is back! (Well… I’d like to think it’s the same one, anyway. ;o) ) The windows in the old mobile home that we live in here in the hills above Cloverdale are those “slatted” kind that you crank out with a handle and little moths have been getting in between the screen and glass. The Bewick’s perched up on a plant stand this morning and was helping himself by poking his long, curved bill between the glass and sill! He was no more than a foot and a half away from me for several minutes allowing me to get a VERY “upclose” look at him!

    Comment by theflowerlady — February 4, 2008 #

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