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Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
Order
PASSERIFORMES
– Family
TROGLODYTIDAE
Authors: Jones, Stephanie L., and Joseph Scott Dieni

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Introduction

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.