Wrens and Gnatcatchers

These birds are insect eating, surface gleaners. Insects can be gleaned from all sorts of surfaces, cracks and crevices as well as from foliage. Some of these birds are so specialised that their niches in the foliage can be defined as low-level, mid-level and canopy. Livestock gleaning can be regharded as a special case of surface gleaning.


We only see one species of Wren in the UK. Perhaps you noticed it on our Welcome banner. It's called the Eurasian Wren (right) scientifically known as Troglodytes troglodytes, it belongs to family Troglodytidae. Previously this species was known as the Winter Wren. This bird is widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere where it gleans insects from leaves, twigs and various crevices within about two metres from the ground. In the UK it is colloquially known as the Jenny Wren and an RSPB information leaflet says it is the most widespread and numerous species in the UK.


What you may not know is that family Troglodytidae contains 79 other species of Wren found only in the Americas. So if you really want to see Wrens you need to go to the Americas. These birds are all insect gleaners which have established niches which can be defined by the sub-habitats such as tangles of vegetation, nooks, crannies and crevices particularly in rocky areas. Names like the Cactus Wren (left) and the Canyon Wren indicate the type of habitat in which these birds are found and make their nests.


Other Wren-like birds are found in various parts of the world. In Australasia 28 species of Fairy Wren are listed in family Maluridae. They shared a common ancestor with the Lyrebirds and Scrub-birds about 50 mya. The lovely blue Superb Fairywren (right) is often unseen until it flies out from its place of concealment in the foliage just above the ground. It feeds briefly on insects plucked from rocks or the ground and then flies back to become almost undetectable.

New Zealand Wrens, listed in family Acanthisittidae, are known as Rifleman, Bushwren and Rockwren. They search for insects on trunks, branches and leaves of forest trees.


The African region has 128 species of Cisticolas and Prinias, in family Cisticolidae, some of which look and behave very much like the Wrens. Levaillant’s Cisticola (left). Prinias used to be called Wren Warblers.

Wrens are closely related to the Gnatcatchers of family Polioptilidae (Early Passerines) and appear to be close to the Old World Warblers. It is thought that Gnatcatchers may have originally been Old World birds which have found their way into Central and South America.


I managed to capture this image of Black-capped Gnatctcher (right) at the at Green Valley water treatment, Tucson, Arizona in August 2006.

Although it is classed as a rare visitor from Mexico we saw it again at Montosa Canyon during our second visit to Arizona in May 2008.


The Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (left) is a rather uncommon bird. This one was photographed at Shannon Broadway, Tucson, Arizona on 31st July 2006.

We saw the bird again on our second visit to the Broadway in May 2008.