In actuality, the Pacific wren is a tiny, deliciously vocal lollipop, a 0.3-ounce glob of exquisitely subtle feathers, measuring three to four inches in length with five- to six-inch wingspan. Its nub of a tail is often cocked upright. To visualize this little bird imagine a golf-ball and drape it in the colors of fawn and dark rufous brown, enhanced with still darker bars. The lighting in the understory of wet woodlands seems to heighten the warm tint of the feathers.
Winter wrens, as these were once called, have a holarctic distribution. In 2008, scientists determined that there existed a distinct DNA, song type, and breeding difference that split winter wrens in North America into a western and eastern species. In 2010, the eastern songster became the winter wren and our western wren became the Pacific wren.
The Pacific wren snarfs insects, spiders, beetles, mosquitoes, ants, moth pupae, slugs, berries and even tiny fish in the lower story of a wooded area. It’s a good thing its diet is so diverse as it is a year round resident. With a small body that loses heat quickly, things get even harder in the winter when insects are scarce. One strategy these birds use is to pull together as a community and roost together at a common site.
You’ll hear this bird before you see it and this one has a lot to say in the spring from its six-foot-high perch. They warm up with a couple of stutters and then call furiously for five to 10 seconds of a nonstop trill — 700-plus notes. These birds have no vocal cords; instead, they have a syrinx, down lower where the windpipe branches. Birds can sing two notes at once. The syrinx is surrounded by an air sack to boost volume. And a Pacific wren certainly has volume!
The hyperactive male builds several unlined nests in low cavities created by over-turned tree roots, old woodpecker holes or rocky crevices. Or he might construct his own moss, twig, rootlet, decayed wood, domed structure. The female then makes her nest selection and lines it softly. Depending on the weather and food supply, the male Pacific wren may help feed the young in the nests of several mates.
This one is a busy, dizzy, pip of a bird.
• Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at education@juneau_audubon_society.org.