Summer climbers, rafters, mountain bikers, hikers and urbanites seeking nature love the Canyon Wren, one of North America’s least-observed songbirds.
By Rex Graham
The small bird with the big voice scurries mouse-like amid cracks, boulders and talus of remote canyons from British Columbia in Canada and the western U.S., to Chiapas, Mexico.
Hearing its pleasant descending trill is one thing, making a visual sighting of this reclusive species is another.
Canyon Wren Singers Communicate Territories
Territorial males lower the frequency of their notes to intimidate trespassing males, even adding harsh end-notes. In a dry Chihuahuan desert canyon of west Texas, recordist Daniel Lane documented a synchronized male-female duet:
“The presumed male (typical song) was perched on the exhaust vent of an old fort,” Lane wrote in Xeno-Canta, a sharing site for bird songs from around the world. “The presumed female (raspier song) was perched on a rock nearby, then flew past the first bird. The lack of aggressive behavior suggests that they were probably a pair.”
Canyon Wrens are understandably romanticized. A bed & breakfast in Sedona, Ariz., named after the bird invites guests “to avoid the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city.”
Daniel Lane’s recording of a male-female Canyon Wren duet in May 2008 in Presidio County, Texas.
Edward Abbey connects with Canyon Wrens
Edward Abbey, essayist and author of Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, opposed the dams that inundated the deep canyons of the Colorado and other Mountain West rivers. He viewed the Canyon Wren living in those canyons as an icon for beautiful, lonely places. Walking the isolated canyons of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas, Abbey wrote a remembrance of its oak-lined canyons:
“…For a long time, we sit in the shade of the blessed trees, listening to Canyon Wrens, to the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk high against the cliffs, to the moan of the wind. We watch the evening sun go down beyond the dry lakes of salt and the far northwestern mountains out in New Mexico. This is a harsh, dry, bitter place, lonely as a dream. But I like it.”
It’s no wonder Abbey found a kindred spirit in the Canyon Wren, a beautifully vocal non-migratory bird.
For intrepid birders who trek southeast Arizona’s Madera, Montosa and other canyons, the wren’s musical songs seem like they’re sung by the vertical rocks. The Canyon Wren uses a long decurved bill and flattened forehead to probe small crevices for spiders, ants and beetles.
Their prey is their main source of liquids. Researchers who noted the birds that appeared at a year-round spring in the desert near Riverside, California, saw Canon, Rock and Bewick’s Wrens, “all foraging near the water’s edge without once trying to drink.”
They build nests in caves, crevices, archaeological ruins and other protected, out-of-the-way places. One pair in Larimer County, Colorado, nested inside a metal storage cabinet within an abandoned storage shed.
Northern Colorado University Biology Professor Lauryn Benedict found another pair of wrens nesting in a spherical Cliff Swallow nest plastered against a cliff above Horsetooth Reservoir, part of the Big Thompson River Project west of Fort Collins.
“The Canyon Wrens occupied the swallow nest prior to the arrival of migrating Cliff Swallows, and repelled swallows from the nest during incubation and chick-rearing,” Benedict wrote in the July 2013 issue of Colorado Birds.