A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Three woodland wren species are normally present in Sonoma County. The most common by far is Bewick’s Wren (Thyromanes bewickii). Pacific Wren (Trodlodytes pacificus--formerly known as Winter Wren) and House Wren are less common. House Wren is a year-round resident, although more common in the summer months. The bulk of the migrant population arrives by early April and leaves again by September-October. In the winter, more common near the coast than inland, according to Bolander and Parmeter. Lukas says Monterey County is usually considered the northern limit of the year-round range of the species, but some birds clearly remain over the winter, as the EBird data show--even if House Wren is scarcest in Sonoma County in January (when the bird above was photographed). Prefers forested areas and woodland with undergrowth, particularly near streams, but not uncommon near farms and in the suburbs. Usually solitary. Nests in the county, using cavities, mostly in deciduous trees, but wherever convenient. May build "dummy" nests, like many other wrens. Exuberant, bubbly song. When agitated, chatters loudly. Active, energetic forager, usually within a few feet of the ground.

Obviously wren-like, with a comparatively long, pointed bill; roundish body; a large head relative to body size; and a stiff tail often held upright. Overall, greyish-brown. Warmer above, paler below but with barring in wings and lower belly and lower flanks. Very fine, pale eyering. Paler greyish cheeks. Faint, pale eyebrow. Most likely to be mistaken for Bewick’s Wren (photo below), but a good look at the face should distinguish the two; Bewick’s Wren has a bold, white eyebrow that is perhaps its most obvious field mark. House Wren’s eyebrow is much less prominent. Somewhat smaller that Bewick’s Wren. House Wren has more barring in the folded wings and on the flanks, which are fairly plain in Bewick’s Wren. Bewick’s Wren is a more uniform, relatively unmarked grey underneath. Pacific Wren, meanwhile, is a tiny bird with a very, very short tail; size and tail length should eliminate confusion between House Wren and Pacific Wren, but Pacific Wren is also a darker, more warmly colored bird with extensive barring on the lower belly.

Trivia: According to Fix and Bezener, the Latin species name comes from the similarity of the House Wren’s song to that of the Nightingale. In Greek mythology, Zeus turned Aedon, a Queen of Thebes, into a Nightingale. Aedon’s crime was the accidental murder of her own son while trying to murder the eldest son of her sister-in-law Niobe (Graves, The Greek Myths).     

English synonyms: “Brown-throated Wren” refers to a subspecies in southeastern Arizona into Mexico.

House Wren in other languages--German: Nördlicher Hauszaunkönig; Spanish: Chochín Criollo; French: Troglodyte familier; Russian: Домовый крапивник; Chinese: 莺鹪鹩; Japanese: イエミソサザイ (iemisosazai)

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

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

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 348

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 126

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

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

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 480-481

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 438

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 289

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 342

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

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 22

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 216-217

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. 330

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. 308

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--House Wren



© Colin Talcroft, 2009-2019

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.


House Wren

Troglodytes aedon

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

1990-2014 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated January 17, 2015

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

For comparison: Bewick's Wren, Spring Lake, December 18, 2011

Note the very strong eyebrow; plain, pale grey breast, belly, and flanks; comparatively unpatterned wings

FOR COMPARISON: Pacific Wren, Howarth Park, Santa Rosa, December 19, 2017