Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
– Family
Authors: Jones, Stephanie L., and Joseph Scott Dieni

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.


Adult Canyon Wren; Arizona, November.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Canyon Wren.

A small wren found in arid, rocky habitats from southern British Columbia throughout the western United States and Mexico, the Canyon Wren is visually inconspicuous but easily detected during the breeding season by its loud, distinctive, and melodious song, often heard echoing throughout canyonlands of western North America.

Few terrestrial birds are as restricted to rocky cliffs or outcrops as this one. It inhabits the same territories year-round, commonly nesting in sheltered rock crevices, using its long, decurved bill and flattened head to probe for spiders and insects in rock crevices. Although not generally associated with human development, the Canyon Wren does inhabit villages in the southwestern United States and Mexico, apparently undeterred by human presence. Only the female incubates, but both adults feed their young.

The taxonomy of the species has been altered and debated for years; currently, three to eight subspecies are recognized.

Owing in large part to the inaccessibility of its preferred habitat, much remains to be learned about the life history of this species; it is arguably one of the least-studied species in North America. The only major studies of the Canyon Wren are a master’s thesis conducted in Molino Canyon, outside Tucson, Arizona (Tramontano 1964), and a Ph.D dissertation conducted in southern California (Mirsky 1976).

We are currently involved in an ongoing study, begun in 1992, that examines the behavior and natural history of this wren, working primarily in the foothill canyons of the Front Range Mountains of Colorado.