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Birding profile: Pacific wren

by Timber Press on September 12, 2013

in Natural History

Troglodytes pacificus. Also known as the Pacific Wren. Image: Scott Carpenter

Troglodytes pacificus. Also known as the Pacific Wren. Image: Scott Carpenter

The Pacific Wren more than compensates for its diminutive size with a prolonged, bubbly song that seems to spread throughout a damp forest, echoing off of every tree trunk and mossy rock. This happy song packs in more than 30 notes per second, which gives it a kinetic quality. The bird’s scientific name means cave dweller of the Pacific, which seems apt for this secretive little wren. This mouse-sized bird is solid brown with black barring on its wings, tail, and undersides. Bewick’s Wrens and House Wrens are also found in wooded areas of the region. Both are larger with bills that are longer and more curved than that of the Pacific Wren. These three species can also be distinguished by relative tail length and the color of the stripe above their eyes. The Bewick’s Wren has a very long tail and a white stripe, the House Wren has a medium-sized tail and a buff-colored stripe, and the Pacific Wren has a stubby tail and a buff-colored stripe.

A Pacific Wren sings. Image: Scott Carpenter

A Pacific Wren sings. Image: Scott Carpenter

In search of insects, spiders, and other creepy crawlies hiding in crevices in a mature forest, Pacific Wrens creep and flit near streams and in upland areas. No areas in the lower levels of a forest go unsearched. They use their tiny bills to probe bark, fallen logs, leaf litter, mossy patches, and even streams for small prey. Berries and seeds also form a part of their diet.

Males are manic nest builders and use a variety of nest designs. They build spherical nests in spaces such as old woodpecker cavities, upturned root wads, and along stream banks. A male may construct several of these nests each year. When a female is sufficiently impressed with his work, she selects a nest and indicates her approval by lining the interior with fine material. After lining a nest, the female lays five to seven eggs and incubates them for 16 days. Both adults bring insects, spiders, and the like to nestlings. The family group stays in the male’s territory, where both parents will care for the young until they disperse in a few weeks.

Pacific Wrens are found year-round in forests that experience mild winters. Males sing throughout the year but increase the frequency of singing in late winter and early spring. The long nesting season begins in April and ends in August. During this time, some females raise a second brood of young after the first has fledged. Some birds disperse from high-elevation forests in the winter and occupy shrubby habitats, such as low-elevation clearcuts and city parks, until it is time to return to the forest for the nesting season.

Mary McCann of Bird Note deconstructs the song of a Pacific Wren:

Look for them all year in the wet forests of the Northwest. Listen for its song and its sharp, repeated “chip!” from low perches such as stumps or downed logs.

In Washington

  • Point Defiance Park in Tacoma (Map)
  • Discovery Park in Seattle (Map)
  • Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Forest (Map)
  • Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Carty Unit, near Vancouver (Map)

In Oregon

  • Audubon Society of Portland’s Nature Sanctuary near Forest Park (Map)
  • Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats (Map)
  • Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach (Map)
  • Silver Falls State Park near Salem (Map)

This could be part of your next birding adventure:

You don’t have to wait for neotropical migrants to arrive to enjoy birdsong in the Pacific Northwest. Our resident birds start warming up as the days begin to lengthen and are in full voice by early April. Song Sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens, Spotted Towhees, Purple Finches, brown creepers, and Northern Flickers all get a jump on the spring season, and you can learn their songs and calls early, before the warblers, flycatchers, and vireos arrive to complicate things.

  • Sarah Swanson has worked as an environmental educator for the Audubon Society of Portland. She loves teaching adults and children about natural history by leading field trips and classes.
  • Max Smith is a wildlife biologist currently working with the U.S. Forest Service. Since 2003, he has studied the mechanisms through which invasive plants and wildfire influence the reproductive success of birds.


Click on image to see inside this book.


Someone has found a new way to present descriptions of 85 of our favorite birds in Oregon and Washington. The Oregonian

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