Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rock Wrens at Point Reyes National Seashore

I had only taken a few steps past the gate leading to the Point Reyes Lighthouse when movement on the rocks ahead of me caught my attention.
Along the rocky slope, adjacent to the trail, I discovered a pair of Rock Wrens.  From my position, they looked so tiny, yet they are the size of our Carolina Wrens, and sometimes an inch taller.  Their plumage so closely matched the rocks around them, that if I looked away and they were standing still when I searched again, it took some effort to find them.  
Rock Wrens are at home year-round in this area of coastal California.  
They measure 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails and, standing on tall legs, appear more slender than their Carolina Wren cousins. The Birds of North America account of this species describes these wrens as a "mysterious" bird that has been little studied.  That may be, in part, due to its inaccessible nesting habitat.   

And here is one of those mysterious things that little is known about.  A breeding pair creates a "pebble path" three or more inches wide that leads to the nest cavity and the nest. No one actually knows what purpose this structure serves, but a great deal of effort goes into it.  

As you can see in the images above and below, these loose surfaced, sloping, rock ledges that form the cliffs descending to the Pacific Ocean, are not the most inviting of habitats for extensive human observation. 
Rock wrens are found in western arid areas and usually nest on rocky slopes or any place where there are lots of crevices, passageways, cavities, and "nooks and crannies of diverse sizes and shapes." The male is described as an incredible singer and having a repertoir of over 100 songs.
Both members of the pair gather rocks, sticks, and other extraneous materials (which may include nails and bits of trash) to construct the "pavement" leading to the nest site and the platform on which the nest is built (which the female builds alone).  In one two-hour observation, the female of a pair made 91 trips during the construction of the pavement and nest platform.  All of those rocks were carried in that tiny little bill!  
I don't keep a "life list", but I do know when I've seen a species for the first time.  Another first encounter for me, among many on this trip, and a delightful one!

Next:  Elephant Seals

Point Reyes National Seashore
Stinson Beach
Rock Wren at Cornell's All About Birds
Other "life" birds seen on this trip:  Snowy Plover
Carolina Wren


  1. I loved this series of Wrens and I also love Point Reyes...went many years ago and a Red-tailed Hawk was perched on a rail along the seashore and it allowed me to walk right up to it. I had some kind of little instamatic camera back then, but have never forgotten that close encounter~

    1. I love your story. These are the encounters that endear birds to us forever! Point Reyes is an incredible place.


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