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Wrentit

Chamaea fasciata ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARADOXORNITHIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Wrentit’s characteristic bouncing-ball song is a classic sound of coastal scrub and chaparral along the West Coast. Seeing a Wrentit is a challenge as they sneak around inside shrubs, rarely making an appearance. Males and females sing at all hours of the day, all year long, most often hidden from view. With patience, a brownish-gray bird with a piercing white eye might pop out of the shrubs, cock its long tail off to the side, and sing. Wrentits rarely travel far from their territories, so you can enjoy their presence year-round.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.5–5.9 in
14–15 cm
Weight
0.5–0.6 oz
13–16 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Bushtit, smaller than a Spotted Towhee; about the size of a Song Sparrow.
Other Names
  • Cama brune (French)
  • Camea (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Although Wrentits have “wren” in their name they are not wrens at all. They are currently a member of the parrotbill family, but their family status is rather uncertain. One thing is clear; they have no close relatives in the Americas. Their closest relatives are in Africa, Spain, India, and China.
  • Wrentits may pair up as early as 30 to 40 days old and they stay with that mate for the rest of their life.
  • Males and females incubate eggs. Females take care of the eggs at night and males jump in to help out early in the morning and again just before dark.
  • Wrentits are homebodies and may be the most sedentary bird species in North America. They rarely travel more than 1,300 feet from where they were born.
  • Wrentits along the coast and in the more humid areas of the north tend to be darker than individuals living in drier and more interior parts of the range.
  • Wrentits live 3.5 years on average. The oldest recorded Wrentit was at least 13 years, 5 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California.

Habitat


Scrub

The 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.

Food


Insects

Wrentits 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.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.7 in
1.8 cm
Egg Width
0.6 in
1.4 cm
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.
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.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Wrentits 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.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Wrentits 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.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Wrentits are common, but populations declined by almost 1% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 31% over that period, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.4 million Wrentits with up to 93% living in the U.S. and up to 7% in Mexico. Partners in Flight rates them a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. The Wrentit is listed on the 2016 State of the Birds Watch List which includes species that are 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.

Credits

Range Map Help

Wrentit Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident. Wrentits do not migrate and rarely leave their immediate surroundings.

Backyard Tips

If you live within the Wrentit’s range, you might attract Wrentits to your yard by landscaping with native chaparral plants such as coyotebush, California lilac, manzanita, or California sage. Learn more about creating backyard habitat by visiting the Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

Hearing a Wrentit is easy. Seeing one is challenging, but not impossible. Wrentits are often in areas with thick vegetation, but in these areas they are harder to see. Try finding a chaparral or scrubby area within their range that is not too thick with vegetation to make finding one a bit easier. Listen for their characteristic bouncing-ball song, zero in on their location, and patiently watch for movement in the shrub to catch a glimpse. Try positioning yourself in an area with good views of multiple shrubs to increase the chance of seeing one fly between shrubs. Although Wrentits sing all year long, the best time to catch one perched on top of a shrub is early in the breeding season in April and May.

Get Involved

Find out how to landscape with native plants to create habitat for Wrentits and other birds at Habitat Network.

You Might Also Like

Read more about Wrentit's home in Birding California’s Central Coast, Living Bird, Summer 2008.

Learn more about Old World warblers in Counterpoint: 7 Ways European Warblers Outperform American Warblers, All About Birds, August 1, 2012.

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