Bewick's Wren

Thryomanes bewickii

  • Version: 2.0 — Published July 26, 2013
  • E. Dale Kennedy and Douglas W. White

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Bewick's Wren.

Breeding, non-breeding and year-round ranges of the Bewick’s Wren.

Bewick's Wren, Monterey Co., CA, 22 September.

A typical view of this species, peering inquisitively with tail cocked from a dense tangle of undergrowth. Note the bold white eyebrow, long tail, and grayish underparts. Bewick's Wrens are noisy and curious, often showing themselves briefly before dropping back into the scrubby vegetation then inhabit. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

No bird more deserves the protection of man than Bewick's Wren. He does not need man's encouragement, for he comes of his own accord and installs himself as a member of the community, wherever it suits his taste. He is found about the cowshed and barn along with the Pewee and Barn Swallow; he investigates the pig-sty; then explores the garden fence, and finally mounts to the roof and pours forth one of the sweetest songs that ever was heard.

(Ridgway 1889c)

The first recognized Bewick's Wren, collected by J. J. Audubon on its wintering ground in Louisiana in 1821, was described by Audubon and named for his friend, Thomas Bewick, a British engraver. A century ago, Bewick's Wren was beloved as the “house wren” of the Appalachians and the Midwest. Today, the species has all but disappeared east of the Mississippi River and has declined in western parts of its range. Hypotheses to explain these declines include competition with the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), and Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia); the use of pesticides on agricultural lands; and severe winters. The declines appear most likely due to competition from the nest-destroying House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) whose range expansion has accompanied the quiet exit of Bewick's Wren.

Recognized by its white eye-line and breast and long, white-spotted tail (which it wags from side to side), Bewick's Wren is nearly as active and noisy as the House Wren, but it is more common in drier, more open habitats. West Coast populations are mostly resident and show multiple subspecific plumage differences; eastern populations are short-distance migrants and less varied in plumage. This species breeds in open woodlands, upland thickets, and hills in any suitable cavity or cavity-like structure, including centers of brush piles, rock crevices, outbuildings, and abandoned automobiles. Individuals may be double-brooded. Young males learn their songs from neighboring territory holders and have fairly large repertoires; songs differ geographically, with song types changing gradually over distance. These birds glean insect adults, eggs, and larvae, and other small invertebrates from leaves, branches, and trunks; they seldom feed more than 3 meters off the ground and may forage on the ground in areas of sparse vegetation.

Bewick's Wren occurs in greatest numbers throughout the year in southeastern Arizona, the Edwards Plateau of central Texas, and in southern coastal areas of California -- yet little is known about the species from those areas. What is known comes mostly from Miller's (Miller 1941e) study of behavior in Berkeley, CA, Bibbee's (Bibbee 1947) life history study in West Virginia, Kroodsma's (Kroodsma 1972a, Kroodsma 1973, Krieg 1971, Kroodsma 1985b) studies of vocalizations and song-learning in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and of geographic variation in songs among some western populations, and Kennedy and White's (Kennedy and White 1996) study of breeding biology and interactions with House Wrens in Kansas.

Recommended Citation

Kennedy, E. D. and D. W. White (2013). Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.