Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

On The Fence

A Bewick's Wren is an LBJ. (In this case, the term has nothing to do with our previous president.) 

Brown is an excellent camouflage color for birds especially if they are searching for food on a dead tree. Being mostly brown not only makes birds more difficult to see it also makes them harder to identify. Especially, if they are small, speedy and shy. In frustration, budding birders sometimes short-circuit the identification process by calling tiny coffee-colored birds, little brown jobs i.e. LBJs.

Eighty years ago, our local Bewick's Wrens were thought of as a distinct species. At that time, they were referred to as Seattle Wrens. In time, the scientific perspective changed and they became one of many subspecies of the Bewick's Wren.

Currently, there are still more than a dozen subspecies left in North America. In general, the farther east you go the less likely you are to find living members of whichever subspecies' once inhabited the area.

The plight of the eastern Bewick's Wrens reinforces our need to find ways to coexist with the creatures around us. To do so, we must understand their needs and how our decisions impact their survival. A great place to start is to make sure we know all three species of wrens that live around Union Bay and the ecosystems where they live.

For the advanced birder: What part of a Bewick's Wrens body has spots? 

(If you do not know, in the end, you will find the answer in this post.)

The second species, pictured here, has a shorter tail, a much fainter eyebrow and tends to harvest insects from the forest underbrush. Also, its song is longer and filled with rapid-fire crisp little notes which roll up and down in pitch. It is the Pacific Wren. About the only places, I run across them is in the brushy portions of Interlaken Park or the Arboretum. If you have them in your yard, then your property is most likely an exceptional Wildlife Sanctuary and/or very close to one.

Until 2010, the Pacific Wren was considered a subspecies of the more eastern Winter Wren. It then became a separate species due to minimal interbreeding and newly discovered genetic differences. They are short-distance migrants who live in our area year-round.

This third species lives primarily among cattails. It has dark and light 'checkering' on its upper back, which the other two species lack. Its songs and calls are the most mechanical sounding and the least melodic of our three wren species. It is a Marsh Wren. 

I see these most commonly in the cattails at the Union Bay Natural Area. I suspect they also reside in the cattails to the east and southeast of Foster Island - but given that these areas can only be accessed via the water I am not there to see them as often.

Marsh Wrens are medium distant migrants. They are in our area year-round, but less frequently in the Winter. Plus, the males are much easier to see and hear during the Spring - when they are loudly advertising all the nests they have built for potential harem members.

The Bewick's Wren is found in a greater variety of habitats than the other two species. It looks for insects in bushes, trees, logs, leaf litter and sometimes on fences. The Bewick's Wren is more likely to venture into your yard than the other two species. On the Pacific Coast these wrens are resident, non-migratory birds. 

All About Birds says, ' Before eastern populations disappeared, some migration was reported from northern parts of the range south to Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida.' Clicking on the link above will show you a range map. It indicates there are no longer any year-round populations of Bewick's Wrens east of the Mississippi.

The family name for the wrens of American, Europe, and Asia is Troglodytidae. According to Wikipedia, the name originated from the word 'troglodyte' which essentially means, 'One who lives in a cave.

I have yet to see a Bewick's Wren in a cave, but I have seen them looking almost comfortable in a hole in a tree. Did you notice the barring on the long tail?

I have also seen a pair of young, snuggled up together, toward the end of the day, in a hole in a dead snag - most likely excavated by a Pileated Woodpecker. All About Birds describes Bewick's Wren nest sites as including, '...rock crevices and ledges, brush piles, abandoned woodpecker nest cavities, outbuildings, nest boxes and abandoned automobiles.'

A couple of years ago, while watching our local female Pileated Woodpecker, Goldie, excavating for carpenter ants, I noticed a Bewick's Wren who was also watching the woodpecker's progress. The wren is on the right side, in this photo.

Afterward, once the woodpecker moved on, the wren came in for a closer inspection of the woodpecker's various excavations. No doubt hoping for an easy meal.

Bewick's Wrens are smart enough to take food where ever they find it. Last week, I watched one working its way along the top of a fence at the University of Washington. This fence stands along the east end of Husky Stadium practice facility.

As it worked its way along the fence the wren stirred up a cloud of small insects.

It was obvious the wren knew what it was doing.

It would snag the small creatures, then reposition and swallow them while closing in for the next opportunity. It was an extremely fast and fluid hunting expedition.

The little bird worked thirty or forty yards along the top of the fence before it moved on.

Nearly two hundred years ago John James Audubon watched a Bewick's Wren hunt for insects along a fence in Louisiana. If you follow this highlighted link to All About Birds you can scroll down to the second paragraph under 'Cool Facts' and read his quote and also learn how he came up with this species name. Sadly, in 2020, even Audubon would have trouble finding a Bewick's Wren in Louisiana.

(In Germany, the Eurasian Wren is called, 'Zaunkonig' - which translates to 'Fence King'.)

If we want future generations to have the chance to appreciate Bewick's Wrens there are specific actions that landowners, can take. Besides having a fence, here are some other ways you can make your property more appealing to Bewick's Wrens: 
  • Planting native plants - native birds naturally know how to use them,  
  • Leaving a brush pile or two - they provide places for small birds to hide, find nesting materials and build protected nests,
  • Leaving bushes full and untrimmed all the way to the ground. This also provides protection e.g. like a living brush pile.
  • Leaving dead leaves - fertilizes plants, keeps plants warmer, enhances food sources for birds, plus leaves can be used in nests.
  • Leaving spider webs - spider silk is used to hold their nests together,
  • Leaving snags standing (at least 10' - 15') - provides cavities for nesting,
  • Allow plants to flower (including grass) - more food for insects means more food for birds, plus dead grass is used in many bird's nests,
  • Plant in multiple dimensions - ground cover, understory and overstory (this multiplies your properties benefit to wildlife).
I would recommend the best place for most of these changes is, of course, along your backyard fence. If all your neighbors take a similar approach these changes will essentially unite and create a larger and more prolific wildlife sanctuary. By the way, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also supports Backyard Wildlife Sanctuaries

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city! 


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 



Are these birds native to our area? What species do they belong to? 

Scroll down for the answer.


Yes, they are all PNW natives!

A) Marsh Wren - also known as the Long-billed Marsh Wren
B) Bewick's Wren - formerly called the Seattle Wren
C) Pacific Wren - formerly called the Winter Wren 


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


As a reward to those who have read this far, here are a couple of photos showing the seldom seen spots on the lower back of preening Bewick's Wrens. They are tricky to see since the spots are hidden unless the bird holds the covering feathers erect and/or lowers its wings.


  1. As usual, a very nice post - thanks! Just a minor spelling correction - the correct spelling of the wren's german name is Zaunk├Ânig.

    1. Thank you! I repositioned the 'a' in front of the 'u'. However, I do not have a clue how you got the two little dots to appear above the 'o'. Thanks again!

  2. Larry, thanks for yet another fascinating post.Your mention of the
    German name reminded me of the Spanish: saltapared - "jump-the-wall"!