Skip to main content

Canyon Wren Life History



Canyon Wrens are not tied to plant communities so much as they are to steep, rocky landscapes. Look for them in arid lands with cliffs, talus slopes, steep-sided canyons, rocky outcrops, and boulder piles, mostly below 6,000 feet elevation, but the species has been recorded as high as 9,850 feet. Crevices and crannies in these areas provide places to rest, forage, and nest. Although many canyons inhabited by Canyon Wrens are cut by streams, most individuals forage along steep slopes rather than streamside. They are at home in very dry environments that have no water sources.

Back to top



Canyon Wrens eat mostly insects and spiders, which they pull out of rock crevices with their long, fine bills. Prey include leafhoppers, termites, ants, wasps, beetles, moths, cicadas, aphids, scale insects, lacewings, ant lions, crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts. In addition to eating spiders and harvestmen (daddy longlegs), Canyon Wrens sometimes steal insects trapped in spiderwebs or stowed in wasp nests. They forage almost solely along rocky surfaces but sometimes in bushes or on the ground. On rare occasions, they pursue flying insects on the wing.

Back to top


Nest Placement


Canyon Wrens set their nests in sheltered crevices in cliffs, banks, or small caves, less often in manmade structures.

Nest Description

Both male and female build the nest, a cup of twigs, grasses, dead leaves, and moss, lined with lichens, plant down, wool, and feathers, sometimes wrapped with spiderweb. Nests average 5.6 inches across and 3.7 inches high, with the interior cup 2.2 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.64-2.07 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.29-1.46 cm)
Incubation Period:12-18 days
Nestling Period:12-17 days
Egg Description:

White, with small, faint reddish-brown dots.

Condition at Hatching:

Entirely featherless, pink, with eyes closed.

Back to top


Ground Forager

Canyon Wren pairs appear to be monogamous and remain together throughout the year. Male and female often forage together, moving along rocky surfaces and investigating recesses, calling occasionally. Their movements are low and usually made in short hops, shifting from side to side frequently as they progress. Their movement on sheer rock usually follows patterns of cracks in the rock, and is made possible by their strong, short legs, long hindtoe, and long, sharp toenails. When probing a deep crevice, the birds flatten their bodies, spread their legs, and extend their necks. Pairs establish and defend breeding territories of 1–4 acres. In narrow canyons, these may include both sides of the canyon. Nonbreeding foraging territories can be much larger, reportedly as large as 50 acres. Both male and female Canyon Wrens behave aggressively toward Rock Wrens, following and chasing them from the Canyon Wrens’ territories.

Back to top


Low Concern

Canyon Wren populations appear to have been stable between 1968 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1 million and rates the species an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Habitat alteration, and in some areas disturbance by recreational rock climbers, appear to be the chief threats to this species.

Back to top


Bent, A. C. (1948). Life histories of North American nuthatches, wrens, thrashers, and their allies. United States National Museum Bulletin 195.

Jones, Stephanie L. and Joseph Scott Dieni. (1995). Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World