A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Bewick's Wren is our most common wren. Present year-round and in many parts of the county. Our local Audubon Society (The Madrone Audubon Society) uses this bird on its logo. Bewick's Wren favors scrubby habitat both near the coast and inland, and lightly wooded areas and edge environments. Not uncommon in suburban settings if woods are nearby. Commonly found near streams. Often a skulker in brush and thickets, but will sing out in the open in a loud clear voice that carries great distances. When you finally locate the bird, it's astonishing to find so much sound coming from such a tiny creature. Song typically starts on two or three high notes before dropping down; often ends on a trilled note. Breeds in much of the county (has nested in my own yard). May build "dummy" nests, like many other wrens. Feeds almost entirely on insects. Many subspecies are recognized (the Wikipedia article on this bird lists 20), which differ mainly in the shade of brown on the back. Eastern birds are much more rufous than ours, birds of the western interior greyer. According to the National Geographic guides, coastal birds become browner and darker as you move further north. Our subspecies appears to be Thryomanes bewickii marinensis. Old sources may assign this bird to the genus Thryothorus.

The very strong white eyebrow, pale grey underparts and cheek, and barred tail edged with white distinguish Bewick's Wren from other wrens. Often paler at the throat. Underside of tail and undertail coverts also finely barred with black and white. Upperparts slightly reddish brown. Long, slightly decurved bill. Look also for the long tail. Bewick's Wren often holds its tail straight up, like other wrens, but also has a habit of flicking its tail from side to side. Sings a very pretty song, but also makes scolding sounds and, around nesting time, a loud repeated chi-chi chi-chi, that is reminiscent of Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).

Among wrens we commonly see in Sonoma County, most closely resembles Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris), but that bird is usually restricted to reedy areas immediately adjacent to water. Marsh Wren is buffy rather than pale grey below, it lacks the white and black barring in and under the tail of Bewick's Wren. Tail and bill are both shorter than in Bewick's Wren. Marsh Wren also has pale striping on its back absent in Bewick's Wren-but again, habitat usually distinguishes the species. House Wren is far more likely to be in the same kind of habitat as Bewick’s Wren. House Wren is similar but has a much less prominent eyebrow than Bewick's Wren, it is more patterned in the wings and flanks, and generally warmer in tone (photo below). Pacific Wren (formerly Winter Wren, now Troglodytes pacificus, formerly Troglodytes troglodytes) is a much smaller, darker bird with a very short tail.      

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, pg. 94

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 349

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, pg. 125

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, pg. 342

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 384

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 479-480

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, pg. 442

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 343

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 288

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, p. 5

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, p. 21

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 215-216

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 56

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 240

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 280

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 264

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 329

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 536

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 306

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Bewick's Wren



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Bewick's Wren: Note pattern of strong black and white barring under tail and  comparative lack of barring elsewhere

Spring Lake, December 18, 2011

Bewick's Wren, Spring Lake, December 18, 2011

Bewick's Wren

Thryomanes bewickii

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated June 5, 2013

EBird reported  occurrence in Sonoma County

For comparison: House Wren, Diekmann’s Store, Bodega Bay, January 17, 2015

Note particularly the lack of a well-defined white eyebrow and the barring on flanks and folded wings, mostly absent in Bewick’s Wren