04.17/Wrens

Featured for April: A small, active, vocal bird

I’m a photo hobbyist who likes all types of photography, but a high percentage of photos in my files are of birds.

Why? Logistics. 

I don’t have to buy a ticket or apply for permits to access a site. There are no restrictions on the size or amount of equipment I can bring. Whatever I can carry is OK. I don’t need to get signed model releases before I can legally use the photos I shoot. And I don’t need to travel long distances. I just show up at a local park and get some exercise while looking for birds to photograph.

But bird photography is extremely challenging. Birds don’t pose for the camera. In fact, they tend to fly away. And there’s no guarantee I’ll see anything on one of my photo hikes. Many times I’ve hiked for several hours to get shut out, returning home with no usable photos. It definitely requires patience. 

This gallery is filled with photos of wrens, a bird that challenges my patience. I’ve been fortunate to collect photos of four different species of wrens:  House Wrens, Winter Wrens, Carolina Wrens and Sedge Wrens. Each species has different plumage and different behavior, but I find all difficult to photograph. They are very small, usually less than a half an ounce in weight and less than five inches from tip of beak to tip of tail. Their colors blend with their surroundings, providing natural camouflage. They are very active, flitting quickly from spot to spot. And they are very vocal. 

If it wasn’t for their loud, recognizable call I might never know a wren is nearby.

But after years of experience gained by watching wren behavior with little success photographing the birds I learned a trick that has greatly improved my success rate. Wrens, especially House Wrens, tend to return to some of the same perches as they patrol their territory. If I see a wren fly from a branch, it is likely the bird will return to the same branch after a short time. If I’m patient, I may get the shot.  

Of the four wren species I’ve photographed in Ohio, the Carolina Wren is the easiest to identify with its rich cinnamon plumage, bright white eyebrow stripe and slightly larger size than other wrens. Carolina Wrens are found in wooded areas, climbing up and down tree trunks and scurrying through ground vegetation in search of fruit or insects. 

The Sedge Wren is a bit of a rarity here in Ohio.  I saw a Sedge Wren once in 2006 and got a few photos, but I haven’t seen one since. It is listed as an endangered species in Ohio. The area where I live, Central Ohio, is along the southern edge of the Wren’s summer range so I may never see one again. The Sedge Wren is a secretive, highly nomadic bird that breeds in short grass and marshes and runs on the ground to avoid predators. It flies only a short distance before diving quickly into tall grass.

That leaves the House Wren and Winter Wren. I’d be willing to bet that some of the birds I have identified as House Wrens are actually Winter Wrens, and some of my Winter Wrens are House Wrens. The two are very similar, best identified by the difference in size and tail length (which is hard to determine unless the two are side by side in a photo) and very slight difference in plumage.

House Wrens can be found in small trees or shrubs in open forests or near forest edges, bouncing from limb to limb of small trees and shrubs looking for insects. The habitat overlaps with that of Winter Wrens, which prefer open or dense woods and are usually found creeping among fallen logs and dense underbrush  Bird field guides often describe the Winter Wren’s behavior to be more like a mouse than a bird.

I add a new featured gallery the first of each month. The numbers in the gallery title represent the month and year it was featured. Last month’s featured gallery, with photos of Grand Central Terminal in New York City, has been moved to my featured gallery archives.

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