Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wrentit

I was delighted to find Wrentits when we recently visited the Kate Sessions Park near San Diego, California. Note the blur of the Wrentit's long tail in my photograph.

Just what is a Wrentit? When I first listed this species many years ago in northern California, ornithologists considered Wrentits to be in their own family, Chamaeidae. Now confusion reigns. Look in The Sibley Guide to Birds, and you find Wrentits to be the only North American member of a large (and diverse) family of Old World birds called Babblers, Timaliidae. Look in the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition, and Wrentits are placed in another Old World family, the Sylviidae. My usual ultimate source for such taxonomic questions, the Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees, has Wrentits both ways!  They reside with the Babblers, but the authors write that recent DNA studies indicate that many Babblers, including Wrentits, are actually Sylviidae, while other Babblers need to be reclassified. If this discussion sounds confusing, that is because it is.

In any case, Wrentits are common residents along the Pacific Coast of North America, from Oregon south to northern Baja California. The species is usually found in dense brushland. Wrentits form life-long, monogamous pairs and remain in their territories, for up to 12 years. Males and females incubate their eggs, remain in vocal contact with each other, and mutually preen (Geupel and Ballard 2002).

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