a rare bird

I’ve heard of this bird but never seen it.  It’s actually common where it occurs, but has a very limited geographic range in the U.S.  In fact, it can only be found in the chaparral and oak woodlands of the coast range in California and Oregon and northern Baja California and a small portion of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.

Wrentit

It’s a Wrentit — which is a way of saying it is neither a wren nor a relative of the titmice and chickadees. This species has no close relatives in North America, or apparently anywhere else in the world.

Wrentits are small, brown birds, with long tails, and very loud voices that sound like a hard ball bouncing on a metal floor.  Ornithologists have struggled to determine where this bird fits in the avian lineage, first putting it in its own family, then grouping it with the long-tailed tits of Asia, then the European titmice, then babblers, then European (Sylviidae) warblers.  DNA analysis apparently hasn’t provided the final solution to the origins of this unusual bird.

Wrentit

Really, that is a pretty sorry excuse for a tail.  Those feathers look like they were stuck on.

Wrentits are also a little unusual in being extremely sedentary.  The young disperse an average of just 1000 feet from the nest in which they were raised, to start a family of their own.  Youngsters find a mate within a few months of hatching, and mate for life — some pairs surviving as long as 12 years together!

Wrentit

This is the typical behavior of a Wrentit — hiding in the bushes. They are more often heard than seen because they forage in low, dense shrubbery.  They are insect gleaners, consuming a variety of small prey, but eat fruit too when it’s available.  They may not be colorful, but they do have pretty white eyes.

So, how were we able to see these normally furtive skulkers that hide in the poison oak bushes where it is unsafe to trespass.?  Both male and female Wrentits sing, and use their song to advertise their territory.  When “other” Wrentits (e.g., a pair of nerdy bird lovers playing a Wrentit call on a smart phone) encroach on their territory, Wrentits come investigate to defend the area they call home.  No wildlife was injured in the process of taking these photos.

5 thoughts on “a rare bird

  1. Fascinating information and cool shots of this amazing bird. I am always mildly amused when scientists are baffled and can’t figure out how to categorize something. Sometimes real life just doesn’t fit into neat little boxes.

    • How about that — a puzzle to stump the intrepid cell smashers, who still can’t make sense of the heritage of this bird, even with their DNA maps.

  2. Pingback: In the tangled scrub | Back Yard Biology

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