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Wrentit Life History


ScrubThe Wrentit is a year-round resident in coastal scrub and chaparral along the West Coast. Away from the coast it lives in dense shrublands with coyotebush, manzanita, California lilac, and blackberry thickets in foothills and desert regions of California. In northwestern California and northwestern Oregon, the Wrentit breeds in oak woodlands and mixed hardwood and evergreen forests. Wrentits sometimes make suburban yards and parks their home especially if they find plenty of dense shrubbery to hide in. Wrentits tend to avoid areas with non-native plants such as eucalyptus and broom. Back to top


InsectsWrentits pick beetles, scale insects, caterpillars, ants, larvae, and spiders from twigs and bark. They also stretch their necks to reach fruits and seeds such as elderberry, snowberry, coffeeberry, twinberry, blackberry, and laurel sumac from the tips of branches. Poison oak seeds are an important food source during the winter.Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubWrentits build nests in many plants including California sage, coyotebush, blackberry, poison oak, coffeeberry, Douglas-fir, bush lupine, wild rose, valley oak, and wild grape. Nests are well hidden in dense vegetation anywhere from less than 1 foot to 9 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Male and female Wrentits use their bills to peel strips of bark from stems and trunks of California sage, coyotebush, poison oak, and other shrubs. They weave these together with spiderweb to form a cup-shaped nest. They line the nest with finer plant material including soap plant, grasses, and lichens. The nest takes 6 to 7 days to complete. It measures about 3.5 inches across and 2.5 inches deep with an inner cup about 2.5 inches wide and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Incubation Period:11-18 days
Nestling Period:11-19 days
Egg Description:Uniform greenish blue.
Condition at Hatching:Hatchlings are naked and helpless with closed eyes.
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Foliage GleanerWrentits spend a lot of time foraging and singing hidden from view inside shrubs. They pick insects, seeds, and fruits from twigs and branches. If they find larger prey, they often hold it in their feet while they eat the insect. They slowly hop around in shrubs, often pausing to look around before moving to the next spot. When they fly, Wrentits pump their tail slightly to maintain elevation. Wrentits mate for life and form pair bonds as early as 30 to 40 days old. Pairs are solitary, but form family flocks for up to 41 days after nestlings leave the nest. Males and females defend territories year-round and tend to stay in the same vicinity throughout their life. Both males and females sing throughout the year and are often quite vocal, especially early in the breeding season. If an intruder is detected, adults fly towards the interloper and sing or call, holding their tails straight up. Wrentits also scold nest predators such as California Scrub-Jays and snakes. Back to top


Restricted Range

Wrentits are common, but populations declined by almost approximately 0.5% per year between 1966 and 2019 resulting in a cumulative decline of 34% over that period, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2.2 million Wrentits and rates them a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Due to its restricted habitat, the Wrentit is included on the Yellow Watch List for birds most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. Wrentits live in areas that are prime commercial and residential real estate, especially on the California Coast. Conversion of scrub and chaparral habitat to residential and commercial development reduces populations and creates habitat islands, isolating populations and potentially leading to loss of genetic diversity.

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Delaney, K. S., S. P. D. Riley and R. N. Fisher. (2010). A rapid, strong, and convergent genetic response to urban habitat fragmentation in four divergent and widespread vertebrates. Plos One 5: e12767.

Geupel, Geoffrey R. and Grant Ballard. (2017). Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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

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