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|Marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris)|
The wrens are mostly small, brownish passerine birds in the mainly New World family Troglodytidae. About 80 species of true wrens in roughly 20 genera are described. Only the Eurasian wren occurs in the Old World, where in Anglophone regions, it is commonly known simply as the "wren", as it is the originator of the name. The name wren has been applied to other, unrelated birds, particularly the New Zealand wrens (Acanthisittidae) and the Australian wrens (Maluridae).
Most wrens are small and rather inconspicuous, except for their loud and often complex songs. Notable exceptions are the relatively large members of the genus Campylorhynchus, which can be quite bold in their behavior. Wrens have short wings that are barred in most species, and they often hold their tails upright. As far as known, wrens are primarily insectivorous, eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods, but many species also eat vegetable matter and some take small frogs and lizards
Etymology and usage
The English name "wren" derives from Middle English wrenne, Old English wrænna, attested (as werna) very early, in an eighth-century gloss. It is cognate to Old High German wrendo, wrendilo, and Icelandic rindill (the latter two including an additional diminutive -ilan suffix). The Icelandic name is attested in Old Icelandic (Eddaic) rindilþvari. This points to a Common Germanic name *wrandjan-, but the further etymology of the name is unknown.
The wren is also known as kuningilin "kinglet" in Old High German, a name associated with the fable of the election of the "king of birds". The bird that could fly to the highest altitude would be made king. The eagle out flew all other birds, but he was beaten by a small bird that had hidden in his plumage. This fable is already known to Aristotle and Pliny and was taken up by medieval authors such as Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg, but it concerns Regulus, and is apparently motivated by the yellow "crown" sported by these birds (a point noted already by Ludwig Uhland). In modern German, the name is Zaunkönig, king of the fence (or hedge). In Dutch, the name is winterkoninkje (little winter king).
Wrens are medium-small to very small birds. The Eurasian wren is among the smallest birds in its range, while the smaller species from the Americas are among the smallest passerines in that part of the world. ...
The dominating colors of their plumage are generally drab, composed of gray, brown, black, and white, and most species show some barring, especially to tail and/or wings. No sexual dimorphism is seen in the plumage of wrens, and little difference exists between young birds and adults. All have fairly long, straight to marginally decurved bills.
Wrens have loud and often complex songs, sometimes given in duet by a pair. The song of members of the genera Cyphorhinus and Microcerculus have been considered especially pleasant to the human ear, leading to common names such as song wren, musician wren, flutist wren, and southern nightingale-wren.
Distribution and habitat
Wrens are principally a New World family, distributed from Alaska and Canada to southern Argentina, with the greatest species richness in the Neotropics. As suggested by its name, the Eurasian wren is the only species of wren found outside the Americas, as restricted to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa (it was formerly considered conspecific with the winter wren and Pacific wren of North America). The insular species include the Clarión wren and Socorro wren from the Revillagigedo Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and Cobb's wren in the Falkland Islands, but few Caribbean islands have a species of wren, with only the southern house wren in the Lesser Antilles, the Cozumel wren of Cozumel Island, and the highly restricted Zapata wren in a single swamp in Cuba.
Behavior and ecology
Wrens vary from highly secretive species such as those found in the genus Microcerculus to the highly conspicuous genus Campylorhynchus, the members of which frequently sing from exposed perches. The family as a whole exhibits a great deal of variation in their behavior. Temperate species generally occur in pairs, but some tropical species may occur in parties of up to 20 birds.
Though little is known about the feeding habits of many of the Neotropical species, wrens are considered primarily insectivorous, eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. Many species also take vegetable matter such as seeds and berries, some (primarily the larger species) take small frogs and lizards; the Eurasian wren has been recorded wading into shallow water to catch small fish and tadpoles
Several species of Neotropical wrens sometimes participate in mixed-species flocks or follow army ants, and the Eurasian wren may follow badgers to catch prey items disturbed by them.