Species: Bewick’s Wren, or Thryomanes bewickii
Family: Troglodytidae (Wrens)
Star sign: Libra
Ideal Date: Crouching among the bushes and serenading anyone who passes by.
You’ve probably seen a Bewick’s Wren before, even if you didn’t recognize it. It is one of numerous small, brown-colored species of songbirds whose unremarkable appearances make them difficult to tell apart. Among birders, these dime-a-dozen passerines have the charming moniker of “LBBs”, which stands for “Little Brown Birds”! This highly technical terminology describes many species of Sparrow, Finch, and Wren. The coats of these drab fellows evolved to help them camouflage in dry grasses and dark underbrush — an adaptation which seems to be fairly effective, given that their ability to blend in has been confounding birders since the dawn of time.
But just because the Bewick’s Wren is an LBB doesn’t mean that it’s boring! This teeny friend is full of bravado; it’s constantly in motion as it hops from perch to perch, flicking its long tail and bouncing its whole body with excitement. And the song that it sings of high-pitched, musical trills is very powerful for such a little guy! Each male Bewick’s Wren has a repertoire of completely unique songs, learned during adolescence from parents and neighboring birds. Male Bewick’s Wrens can know as many as 22 songs, wow! These cute critters have the energy and the intelligence! Robert Ridgeway, author of 1899’s Ornithology of Illinois, described the powers of this fluffy friend best when he wrote that the Bewick’s Wren “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.”
Unfortunately, the Bewick’s Wren isn’t quite as capable at installing himself as a member of the community as Ridgeway claimed. While the Bewick’s Wren is common in the western US, a century ago it was also the dominant wren of the eastern US. That’s no longer the case, and today you would be lucky to see a Bewick’s Wren in the east of the Mississippi. The quiet disappearance of this adorable ave remains a mystery to scientists, but the leading theory is that they were outcompeted by the House Wren, another LBB who likes to destroy the nests of Bewick’s Wrens and eject their eggs. The House Wren’s massive range expansion in the east coincided with the decline of the Bewick’s Wren’s abundance.
Luckily, the eviction campaign of the House Wren has not yet reached Oregon, and the Bewick’s Wren is a common sight on Reed’s campus. As LBBs, these cute critters are difficult to identify, so here’s some advice! These friends are slightly smaller than sparrows, with big dark eyes and narrow curved beaks. Their feathers are an unpatterned brown, with tan chests and (relatively) distinctive white stripes above their eyes that resemble cocked eyebrows. Their tails are slightly greyer brown, with black barring, and are about as long as the rest of the body! The wrens often hold their tails up in the air, twitching them back and forth as they forage, like the end of a spoon sticking out of their plump, tea-cup shaped bodies! Also listen for their loud, trilling songs. Bewick’s Wrens prefer to hop around in thickets and dry bushes, but here in the suburbs you can spot them in any old bush — that is, of course, if you can figure out what they are.
Pictures would help here