Troglodytidae – Wrens

Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus ©Owen Deutsch Website

The Troglodytidae are mostly small, brownish passerine birds in the mainly New World family commonly known as wrens. 88 species of true wrens in roughly 20 genera are described. Only the Eurasian Wren occurs in the Old World, where in Anglophone regions, it is commonly known simply as the ‘wren’, as it is the originator of the name. The name wren has been applied to other, unrelated birds, particularly the New Zealand wrens Acanthisittidae and the Australian wrens Maluridae.

Most wrens are small and rather inconspicuous, except for their loud and often complex songs. Notable exceptions are the relatively large members of the genus Campylorhynchus, which can be quite bold in their behaviour. Wrens have short wings that are barred in most species, and they often hold their tails upright. As far as known, wrens are primarily insectivorous, eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods, but many species also eat vegetable matter and some take small amphibians and reptiles.

The Eurasian Wren is among the smallest birds in its range, while the smaller species from the Americas are among the smallest passerines in that part of the world. They range in size from the White-belliedWren, which averages under 10cm and 9g, to the Giant Wren, which averages about 22cm and weighs almost 50g . The dominating colours of their plumage are generally drab, composed of grey, brown, black, and white, and most species show some barring, especially to tail and/or wings. No sexual dimorphism is seen in the plumage of wrens, and little difference exists between young birds and adults. All haveThey have loud and often complex songs, sometimes given in duet by a pair. The song of members of the genera Cyphorhinus and Microcerculus have been considered especially pleasant to the ear.

Wrens are principally a New World family, distributed from Alaska and Canada to southern Argentina, with the greatest species richness in the Neotropics. As suggested by its name, the Eurasian Wren is the only species of wren found outside the Americas, as restricted to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa (it was formerly considered conspecific with the Winter Wren and Pacific Wren of North America). The insular species include the Clarión Wren and Socorro Wren from the Revillagigedo Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and Cobb’s Wren in the Falkland Islands, but few Caribbean islands have a species of wren, with only the Southern House Wren in the Lesser Antilles, the Cozumel Wren of Cozumel Island, and the highly restricted Zapata Wren in a single swamp in Cuba.

The various species occur in a wide range of habitats, ranging from dry, sparsely wooded country to rainforest. Most species are mainly found at low levels, but members of the genus Campylorhynchus are frequently found higher, and the two members of Odontorchilus are restricted to the forest canopy. A few species, notably the Eurasian Wren and the House Wren, are often associated with humans. Most species are resident, remaining in Central and South America all year round, but the few species found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere are partially migratory, spending the winter further south.

Wrens vary from highly secretive species such as those found in the genus Microcerculus to the highly conspicuous genus Campylorhynchus, the members of which frequently sing from exposed perches. The family as a whole exhibits a great deal of variation in their behaviour. Temperate species generally occur in pairs, but some tropical species may occur in parties of up to 20 birds.

Wrens build dome-shaped nests, and may be either monogamous or polygamous, depending on species.

Though little is known about the feeding habits of many of the Neotropical species, wrens are considered primarily insectivorous, although many species also take vegetable matter such as seeds and berries; the Eurasian Wren has been recorded wading into shallow water to catch small fish and tadpoles; Sumichrast’s Wren and the Zapata Wren take snails; and the Giant Wren and Marsh Wren have been recorded attacking and eating bird eggs (in the latter species, even eggs of conspecifics). A local Spanish name for the Giant Wren and Bicolored Wren is chupahuevo (egg-sucker), but whether the latter actually eats eggs is unclear.

The Plain Wren and Northern Wren sometimes destroy eggs and the Rufous-and-white Wren has been recorded killing nestlings, but this is apparently to eliminate potential food competitors rather than feed on the eggs or nestlings. Several species of Neotropical wrens sometimes participate in mixed-species flocks or follow army ants, and the Eurasian Wren may follow badgers to catch prey items disturbed by them.

Species List

There are currently 88 birds recognised by IOC as species of wrens in the family Troglodytidae.

White-headed Wren Campylorhynchus albobrunneus
Band-backed Wren Campylorhynchus zonatus
Grey-barred Wren Campylorhynchus megalopterus
Stripe-backed Wren Campylorhynchus nuchalis
Fasciated Wren Campylorhynchus fasciatus
Giant Wren Campylorhynchus chiapensis
Bicolored Wren Campylorhynchus griseus
Rufous-naped Wren Campylorhynchus rufinucha
Sclater’s Wren Campylorhynchus humilis
Rufous-backed Wren Campylorhynchus capistratus
Spotted Wren Campylorhynchus gularis
Boucard’s Wren Campylorhynchus jocosus
Yucatan Wren Campylorhynchus yucatanicus
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Thrush-like Wren Campylorhynchus turdinus

Grey-mantled Wren Odontorchilus branickii
Tooth-billed Wren Odontorchilus cinereus

Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus

Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus

Sumichrast’s Wren Hylorchilus sumichrasti
Nava’s Wren Hylorchilus navai

Rufous Wren Cinnycerthia unirufa
Sepia-brown Wren Cinnycerthia olivascens
Peruvian Wren Cinnycerthia peruana
Fulvous Wren Cinnycerthia fulva

Sedge Wren Cistothorus stellaris
Merida Wren Cistothorus meridae
Apolinar’s Wren Cistothorus apolinari
Grass Wren Cistothorus platensis
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris

Bewick’s Wren Thryomanes bewickii

Zapata Wren Ferminia cerverai

Black-throated Wren Pheugopedius atrogularis
Sooty-headed Wren Pheugopedius spadix
Black-bellied Wren Pheugopedius fasciatoventris
Plain-tailed Wren Pheugopedius euophrys
Inca Wren Pheugopedius eisenmanni
Moustached Wren Pheugopedius genibarbis
Whiskered Wren Pheugopedius mystacalis
Coraya Wren Pheugopedius coraya
Happy Wren Pheugopedius felix
Spot-breasted Wren Pheugopedius maculipectus
Rufous-breasted Wren Pheugopedius rutilus
Speckle-breasted Wren Pheugopedius sclateri

Banded Wren Thryophilus pleurostictus
Rufous-and-white Wren Thryophilus rufalbus
Antioquia Wren Thryophilus sernai
Niceforo’s Wren Thryophilus nicefori
Sinaloa Wren Thryophilus sinaloa

Cabanis’s Wren Cantorchilus modestus
Canebrake Wren Cantorchilus zeledoni
Isthmian Wren Cantorchilus elutus
Buff-breasted Wren Cantorchilus leucotis
Superciliated Wren Cantorchilus superciliaris
Fawn-breasted Wren Cantorchilus guarayanus
Long-billed Wren Cantorchilus longirostris
Grey Wren Cantorchilus griseus
Riverside Wren Cantorchilus semibadius
Bay Wren Cantorchilus nigricapillus
Stripe-breasted Wren Cantorchilus thoracicus
Stripe-throated Wren Cantorchilus leucopogon

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus

Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Pacific Wren Troglodytes pacificus
Clarion Wren Troglodytes tanneri
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Cobb’s Wren Troglodytes cobbi
Socorro Wren Troglodytes sissonii
Rufous-browed Wren Troglodytes rufociliatus
Ochraceous Wren Troglodytes ochraceus
Mountain Wren Troglodytes solstitialis
Santa Marta Wren Troglodytes monticola
Tepui Wren Troglodytes rufulus

Timberline Wren Thryorchilus browni

White-bellied Wren Uropsila leucogastra

White-breasted Wood Wren Henicorhina leucosticta
Grey-breasted Wood Wren Henicorhina leucophrys
Santa Marta Wood Wren Henicorhina anachoreta
Bar-winged Wood Wren Henicorhina leucoptera
Munchique Wood Wren Henicorhina negreti

Northern Nightingale-Wren Microcerculus philomela
Southern Nightingale-Wren Microcerculus marginatus
Flutist Wren Microcerculus ustulatus
Wing-banded Wren Microcerculus bambla

Chestnut-breasted Wren Cyphorhinus thoracicus
Musician Wren Cyphorhinus arada
Song Wren Cyphorhinus phaeocephalus

Species Links
  • Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

    Species Account
    The cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is a species of wren that is native to the southwestern United States southwards to central Mexico.
  • Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

    Cornell Species Account
    A conspicuous sight and sound of the Southwestern deserts, the Cactus Wren is the largest wren in North America
  • Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludoviciantus

    Cornell Species Account
    (Excellent) Images + Typically associated with the South, the Carolina Wren eased its way north when warmer winter temperatures became the rule as opposed to the exception. Today, Carolina Wrens can be seen just over the southern borders of New York State (see map below). Listen to a recording of a Carolina Wren from the Library of Natural Sounds…
  • Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludoviciantus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 88

Useful Reading
  • Wrens, Dippers & Thrashers

    | By David Brewer | Christopher Helm | 2001 | Hardback | 272 pages, 32 colour plates, maps | ISBN: 9781873403952 Buy this book from
Photographers & Artists
  • Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus


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