Bewick’s wrens are lively little birds that flutter about here and there in the brush, sometimes making lots of noise, and they are this week’s featured creature.
A couple of months ago, I featured the similar Carolina wren. The Bewick’s wren is now generally considered a western bird. However, there is a portion of the country where the bird’s range overlaps with the Carolina wren, considered an eastern bird in the United States. And the Ada area is in that range.
The Carolina wren is plumper than the Bewick’s wren. Its upper parts are more reddish than the Bewick’s wren. It has a shorter tail, and, where the Bewick’s wren has a grayish breast and belly, the Carolina wren generally has an orangish or buffy-cinnamon breast and belly.
The Bewick’s (pronounced like the car, Buick) wren is a small bird but not tiny. It is about five or so inches from beak to tail, but its tail is long. It is dull brown above and grayish below.
It has a very large white “eyebrow” above each eye.
Famed ornithologist and naturalist John James Audubon named the Bewick’s wren after his friend, Thomas Bewick. Bewick was a famous English wood engraver and natural history author who was best known for his book, A History of British Birds.
As it hops about in the brush, the Bewick’s wren feeds mostly on insects and spiders. It will eat seeds and fruit, but mainly in winter.
I checked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, and it suggests Bewick’s wrens can be attracted with suet, hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts and mealworms.
I did have a few Bewick’s wrens visit my suet feeders this summer.
Bewick’s wrens like brushy areas, thickets and woodlands and can often be seen in suburban parks, if the habitat is right.
Once a mate is found, Bewick’s wrens are usually monogamous. They often nest in cavities within 30 feet off the ground. And by cavity, I mean whatever is convenient. Bewick’s wren nests have been found in large tin cans, dusty junk piles in barns and the hollow T-poles used for clotheslines. They are also easily attracted with nesting boxes. They begin nesting early in the spring. In Oklahoma, that can be as soon as early March.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that while a pair is “setting up house,” and even after the female has begun incubating eggs, the male and female often forage together. This may help the male prevent his partner from mating with another bird.
The Bewick’s wren can be found all around Oklahoma, most of Texas, southern Kansas, the southwest corner of Missouri, the western third of Arkansas, most of New Mexico and portions of Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, Oregon and Washington.
Odds and ends
• The house wren can also be found in this area, but usually only in spring and fall. It is smaller than the Bewick’s wren, with a shorter tail, and is browner in color. It also lacks the big white eyebrow.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the severe decline of Bewick’s wrens in the eastern United States coincided with the range expansion of the house wren. It is suspected that the house wren, which frequently removes eggs from nests in cavities, was directly responsible for the decline.
Luckily for Bewick’s wrens here in the Ada area, house wrens do not nest around here.
• The lob reports a Bewick’s wren’s life often starts off perilously. House wrens may eject eggs from its nest, And, both eggs and nestlings can become food for rat snakes and milk snakes, and domestic cats go after nestlings. Adult birds can fall prey to roadrunners, rattlesnakes and hawks.
• In his 1889 book Ornithology of Illinois, Robert Ridgway wrote, “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.”
A side note
During August and into September, you may have seen several “bald-headed” cardinals, blue jays and grackles. But do not worry. This loss of head feathers is a normal occurrence, and the feathers will grow back, all shiny and new. I will explain this phenomenon in a future column concerning one of these birds.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.