By Bob Walker
As we enjoy springtime in Los Alamos, listen for the distinctive song of the Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) while walking the canyons around town. The song starts off with a rapid sequence of notes, slowing down and descending in pitch. You can also hear a recording of this birdsong when you visit the nature center since it is part of one of our permanent exhibits. Here is a sample from a bird in west Texas that sounds quite similar to what we hear in Los Alamos County:
If you are lucky enough to see one of these secretive medium-sized wrens, they will probably be nimbly crawling along the walls of the canyons, or hopping from rock to rock. They compete for habitat with Rock Wrens and White-throated Swifts and have been seen responding aggressively when interacting with these other birds.
They have a fairly long, slightly down-curved bill, a white throat, brown underneath, and a strikingly bright reddish-brown tail with fine black bars that are characteristic of many wren species. They are here in Los Alamos year-round, using their long bill to search for insects in the holes and crevices of the canyon walls. They are a poorly studied bird, but because they seem to tolerate human presence fairly well, and because their preferred habitat is typically inaccessible to much interference from humans (other than rock climbers), they are not considered to be in decline.
Look for articles about Canyon Wrens on the web pages at identify.whatbird.com or allaboutbirds.org or the PEEC Nature Guide. Enjoy more beautiful photos of Canyon Wrens at the Alan Murphy website, or by carefully searching images on Google or Flickr.