Wrens are unremarkable-looking songbirds with big personalities. They are brown, relatively small, and rather plump birds with distinctive upright tails and big voices.
Wrens are New World birds, which means they live in North and South America, except for the Eurasian Wren, which is Old World and occurs in Europe and Africa. They are members of the Troglodyidae family of birds.
There are 88 species of wrens in the world, and of these, 3 have been found in Alaska. Of the species in Alaska, only the Pacific Wren is classed as regularly occurring, and the other two are accidental.
Insects and spiders make up the majority of wrens’ diet, and because of this, they can live in more extreme environments, including dry and very rocky areas, with less vegetation.
It was originally thought that the Winter Wren was the same species as Pacific Wrens and Eurasian Wrens, but they have been declared as three separate species.
Throughout history, wrens have been associated with folklore and meanings, and it was once thought in Europe that killing wrens would bring bad luck.
This guide will help you identify the wren species in Alaska according to avibase. The wrens in this list are ordered by how frequently they are spotted, from most frequent to least frequent, according to bird watchers’ checklists for the state submitted to ebird.
You can print out a free bird identification photo guide for Alaska to help you identify many of the birds that visit your backyard.
3 Species of Wrens in Alaska:
- Pacific Wren
- Rock Wren
- Marsh Wren
1. Pacific Wren
Pacific Wrens are the only frequently spotted wrens in Alaska and they are seen along the coast of the state. They appear in 6% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Pacific Wrens are brown all over with darker barring on the wings, tail, and belly. They have a paler eyebrow stripe and short tails, which they keep upright. Males and females look the same.
Distinctive features: They are the smallest wren in the United States.
- Troglodytes pacificus
- Length: 3.1-4.7 in (8-12 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-12 g)
- Wingspan: 4.7-6.3 in (12-16 cm)
Pacific Wrens are found along the West Coast from Alaska to California. Those on the coast remain all year, but those inland in Canada migrate south for winter.
Look for Pacific Wrens on the ground in forests, often hidden in the mass of leaves and rotting logs. They eat insects, spiders, flies, and bees.
Pacific Wren sounds: They sing a long, jumbled song of many different fast, high-pitched notes.
Nests of Pacific Wrens are made of twigs, moss, and grass woven together into a round shape with a small opening. They lay 1 – 9 eggs, and hatching takes around two or two and a half weeks and fledging the same.
Attract Pacific Wrens to your backyard with native plants and dense vegetation, and try installing a nest box.
Fun fact: Pacific Wrens will often huddle up together when it is cold, with many individuals sharing the same cavity or nest box. Once over 30 were found together in a nest box.
2. Rock Wren
Rock Wrens are extremely rare and considered accidental species in Alaska. In fact, they were have only been spotted around Gustavus in 2017.
Rock Wrens are pale brown on the back with darker flecks. They have barring on the wings and tail and are pale underneath, but with buff coloring on the lower flanks and belly.
Distinctive features: They have a pale eyebrow stripe, a long, slightly curved bill, and dark legs.
Males and females have the same coloring. Rock Wrens bob up and down, especially when agitated. This can help with ID for this bird.
- Salpinctes obsoletus
- Length: 4.9-5.9 in (12.5-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-0.6 oz (15-18 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-9.4 in (22-24 cm)
Rock Wrens are found in dry, rocky areas in western US states and southwest Canada. Those in the south and west remain all year, but those in central US states migrate south for winter.
Look for Rock Wrens in dry and rocky areas that do not have much vegetation. They feed on insects that they find in crevices in the rocks.
Rock Wren sounds: They may know over 100 songs which are often the same sound repeated several times before they then change and repeat a different sound several times. Their songs are different pitched each time.
Rock Wrens nests are on the ground, usually in a cavity or depression in rocky areas, and they add a layer of small stones followed by softer material such as wool and moss. They may lay up to 8 eggs and up to 3 broods a year.
Fun fact: They build a walkway out of stones and other objects leading to their nest, but it is unknown why. Also, they do not drink water and, in fact, get all the moisture they need from eating insects.
3. Marsh Wren
Marsh Wrens are accidental species in Alaska and according to records, they were last spotted around Ketchikan in 2019.
Marsh Wrens are brown with black and white streaks on their back. Their underside is grayish brown, and they have the distinctive upright tail of the wren.
They lack stripes on their shoulders and have longer bills than Sedge Wrens. Males and females look the same.
- Cistothorus palustris
- Length: 3.9-5.5 in (10-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)
Marsh Wrens breed in the Northern US states and Central Canada before migrating to Southern states and Mexico. Some birds in the west and along the Atlantic Coast may remain resident all year. They can be spotted during migration in the Eastern US.
You can find Marsh Wrens in wetlands clinging to reeds, with each foot grabbing a different stalk. They can be hard to spot but listen out for singing amongst the reeds, especially at dawn and dusk.
They eat insects and spiders, which they pick off leaves close to the water.
Marsh Wren sounds: They sing a distinctive buzzy song that can last for 20 minutes.
Nests of Marsh Wrens are fully enclosed, except for a small opening in the top. They are made from reeds and grasses woven together. 3 – 10 eggs are laid, which take around two weeks to hatch and two weeks to fledge.
Fun facts: Marsh Wrens may build up to twenty round dummy nests attached to cattails, but they usually only use one and will destroy the eggs and nestlings of rival birds.
How to Attract Wrens to Your Backyard
Having wrens visiting your backyard lets you listen to their beautiful singing and watch these energetic birds up close. However, only a few species of wren regularly visit backyards, including House Wrens, Carolina Wrens, and Berwick Wrens.
To attract wrens to your backyard, try these ideas:
- Dont be too tidy – Provide habitats for insects and spiders, which are wrens favourite food. Leave fallen leaves, brush piles and spider webs.
- Provide clean water – prefferably running water in several locations.
- Nesting sites – wrens will use nest boxes or maybe your old boots if left out!
- Food – wrens will eat mealworms and crickets if provided. Also try peanuts pieces and suet.
How Frequently Wrens are Spotted in Summer and Winter
Checklists are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted. These lists show which Wrens are most commonly recorded on checklists on ebird in summer and winter.
Wrens in Summer:
Pacific Wren 6.5%
Rock Wren <0.1%
Wrens in Winter:
Pacific Wren 4.2%
Marsh Wren <0.1%