What Was 1 Is Now 2
Our tiniest wren, the Winter Wren, is arguably one of the most overlooked birds in our back yards and nearby woodlands. Yet, it is one of the most boisterous singers in North America's bird world. Its song is an amazing collection of high-pitched buzzes and melodious trills that lasts up to 10 seconds. This little attention-getter made headlines recently when the American Ornithologists' Union announced it had officially split this wren into two species: the Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus) of the West; and Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) in the East.
What a Difference a Name Makes
At one time, we all knew this bird simply as the Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), a species (and 40 subspecies), with a distribution throughout the Northern Hemisphere. However, with the recent name change, the birds in Europe and Asia are now known as "Eurasian Wren" and are distinct from our two North American species.
Where These Wrens Can Be Found
Despite all the fanfare and attention these birds are receiving, it's astonishing how many backyard birders have never seen the Pacific or Winter Wrens. You can identify these birds by the dark barring on their belly and their extremely short tail, which is often cocked upward. Usually, they remain hidden in brush or thickets, and it's not uncommon to find these wrens among the undergrowth near woodland streams. Their call note, a short Kip! Ki--kip! can announce their presence long before they are seen.
The Ranges of the 2 Wrens
The Pacific Wren is found in the coniferous forests of western US and Canada and is actually present year-round in a substantial portion of its range. In contrast, Winter Wrens spend their summers in both deciduous and coniferous forests extending from the Appalachian mountains northward into the northern third of the eastern US and adjacent Canada; they exhibit a more marked migration; in the winter, they can be found in many of the swamps and woodlands throughout the southeastern US. These wrens may come to feeding stations, especially if your seed mix has dried fruit or if you have a suet feeder hanging nearby. Maps reflecting the geographic distribution of Pacific and Winter Wrens are now appearing on the Internet, along with more detailed descriptions on how to separate the two species when you see them in the field.