Grays Harbor Birds: Pacific Wren


Take a walk through the wooded neighborhoods and you will be sure to hear this small bird singing it’s little heart out, a very noticeable trilling song that seems to go on forever.

If you could see the bird doing the singing, you would be surprised to find it is very small for such a big voice.

Until 2010, this bird was known as a Winter Wren, but it was found to have some differences in DNA from its eastern North American cousin, which became the Eastern Wren.

As with most forest birds, the best way to see this little guy is to sit quietly until it comes out and flits around your area. Prepare to wait a while and watch carefully because it moves very quickly and blends in with the surroundings.

I like to drive slowly through my neighborhood with the window down, listening for the bird songs, then stopping to see if I can spot the singer. My car acts as a blind and I can see a lot more than if I were on foot, flushing (scaring off) the birds as I approach. This only works if you drive in an area where there isn’t much traffic to back up behind you! No sense in irritating those in a bigger hurry.

One of the neat things about birding is it forces me to slow down and pay attention, something we are losing the ability to appreciate. Turn off your cellphone or smartphone and listen for the birds; today it’s known as decompressing, in the past it was called relaxing. Whatever you call it, you really do need it to balance out the hectic days we now call normal.

Size: 4 inches in length, with a 5 1/2 inch wingspan, and weighing about 1/3 of an ounce or 9 grams.

General Description: A tiny, mottled, rufous brown bird with darker brown barring on sides, wings and on its short, upright tail. The bill is dark brown, legs are pale brown, and it has a buff-colored eyebrow.

Habitat: Pacific Wrens are most often found in damp, forested areas with dense understory. They are found at all elevations, and most often seen around brush piles, fallen logs, and stream banks. They move constantly in short bursts of climbing or flight. At night, they may roost in dark retreats, snug holes, or even old nests, and in bad weather, they may join with family or many individuals to keep warm.

Behavior: In near-constant motion, creeping around logs, brush piles and the understory gleaning prey from foliage, trunks of trees and brush, the ground, and even the surface of water. In spring, the males sing their extended complex songs which can be heard for quite a distance.

Diet: The Pacific Wren eats insects and spiders most of the year, with large pupae and seeds added in the winter.

Nesting: The male Pacific Wren establishes and defends his territory and attracts a female, all with song. He crouches low, wings spread and quivering, sweeps his tail from side to side, then erects his back feathers and fans his wings. What a show-off! As soon as one female is conquered he finds another, and maybe another. The nest is usually a cavity within 6 feet of the ground, in a stump, an old woodpecker hole, a rock crevice, or under a porch. The platform of twigs is built together by the pair, then a cup of grass, weeds, moss, and rootlets is lined with hair and feathers. The male may build several dummy nests that remain unlined. The female lays 5 to 6 eggs in April and incubates them for 12 to 16 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest at around 19 days.

Migration Status: The Pacific Wren is a permanent resident on the coast of Washington. In colder parts of the state, they leave late in the fall for wintering grounds throughout the western U.S. and return in early spring.

Conservation Status: Breeding bird survey data shows a significant decline of 5.6 percent per year from 1982 to 1991, but no more recent data has been collected. There is no further information on why they are declining, so I do my part by furnishing the local wrens with the most favorable environment for feeding and nesting, including installing wren nest-boxes, leaving a brush pile or two for safety, and leaving fallen chunks of wood in place to attract insects.

When and Where to Find in Grays Harbor: The Pacific Wren is a common resident of all forested habitats in the county, including city parks and yards with lots of surrounding salal, blackberry vines, and willows. Just sit and watch for the flitting wings, and listen to the melody of their song. It is entrancing to hear.