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Pacific Wren

Troglodytes pacificus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TROGLODYTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Pacific Wrens are tiny brown wrens with a song much larger than themselves. One researcher deemed them a “pinnacle of song complexity.” This tinkling, bubbly songster is more often heard than seen within the dark understory of old-growth evergreen forests where they live. When Pacific Wrens sing they hold their tail upright and their entire body shakes with sound. In the dark understory, they move like mice through the forest, hopping along logs and upturned roots.

Keys to identification Help

Wrens
Wrens
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    One of the smallest wrens in the United States, the Pacific Wren has a short, stubby tail which it usually holds upright. Their small size and short tail give them a round appearance. They have short wings and a thin bill.

  • Color Pattern

    This wren is brown overall with darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly. The face is also brown with a slight pale mark over the eyebrow.

  • Behavior

    Pacific Wrens quickly hop through the understory moving more like a mouse than a bird as they investigate upturned roots and decaying logs for food. These energetic birds often bob their heads or entire bodies when they are standing still. In flight they rapidly beat their tiny wings to move short distances between cover.

  • Habitat

    Pacific Wrens are most common in old-growth evergreen forests. They also live in deciduous forests, treeless islands in Alaska, and in mixed-species forests near streams. Wrens forage and build nests near fallen logs, upturned tree roots, dead trees, and thick understory cover of mosses and ferns, often near water. During the nonbreeding season, winter wrens use more types of habitats including parks and gardens.

Range Map Help

Pacific Wren Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Hold short, stubby tail upright when singing
    • Short wings
    • Thin bill
    • Brown overall
    • Darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly
    • Face is brown with a slight pale mark over the eyebrow
    • © hawk person, Henry Cowell State Park, Felton, California, February 2016
  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Round appearance with short wings
    • Thin bill
    • Brown overall
    • Darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly
    • Short, stubby tail which is usually held upright
    • Face is brown with a slight pale mark over the eyebrow
    • © Gary Witt, Tualatin Hills Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon, May 2014
  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Round appearance
    • Thin bill
    • Brown overall
    • Darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly
    • Face is brown with a slight pale mark over the eyebrow
    • © Bob Gunderson, Botanical Gardens, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, September 2012
  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Short, stubby tail which is usually held upright
    • Round appearance
    • Short wings
    • Thin bill
    • Brown overall, with darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly
    • Face is brown with a slight pale mark over the eyebrow
    • © Jacob McGinnis, Basset Pond, Woodinville, Washington, October 2015
  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Round appearance
    • Short wings
    • Thin bill
    • Brown overall
    • Darker brownish-black barring on the wings, tail, and belly
    • Chest is brown and unmarked
    • © Bob Gunderson, Mt. Davidson, San Francisco, California, September 2010

Similar Species

Similar Species

The Winter Wren is nearly identical to the Pacific Wren, but they can be separated by range, plumage, and by voice. Winter Wrens occur in the East and Pacific Wrens in the West—west of the Great Plains, although the two species do come into contact in northeastern British Columbia in Canada. Winter Wrens are paler with less barring on the belly than Pacific Wren. House Wrens are more widespread and less shy than Pacific Wrens. House Wrens are also more likely to be found in and around human developments. The House Wren has a longer tail and appears longer and slenderer. The House Wren is paler colored overall, especially on the throat and breast and they have less barring on the sides of the belly compared to the dark barring found on Pacific Wrens. Marsh Wrens have boldly streaked marks on their backs that Pacific Wrens lack. Marsh Wrens live in wet marshy areas; places that Pacific Wrens avoid. Bewick’s Wrens are larger with a clean white eyebrow, an unstreaked gray belly, and an unstreaked brown back.

Backyard Tips

If you live within their breeding range, you may be able to attract one to your yard by installing a nest box. Be sure to have the nest box ready before the breeding season begins complete with a predator guard. Find plans to build your own nest box at NestWatch.

Landscaping with native plants can also attract Pacific Wrens. Maintaining areas with dense vegetation and brush piles can provide foraging and maybe even nesting opportunities. Learn more about landscaping with native plants at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

Pacific Wrens are very vocal so listen for their rapid series of tumbling and trilling notes in old-growth forests in the West. When you hear their sweet song, patiently look in the understory for mouselike movements along decaying logs and in upturned roots. Early mornings during the breeding season are best times to find them perched in the open shaking as they sing.

Get Involved

Count the number of Pacific Wrens you see in your yard during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Look for Pacific Wren nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch and eBird.

You Might Also Like

The Winter Wren’s Wraparound Range Map. Story in Living Bird, Summer 2009.

eBird Occurrence Maps Pacific/Winter Wren

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The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.