Rock Wren

Salpinctes obsoletus
Range Map

The Rock Wren is a wide ranging Western bird that is found west to the western Great Plains from Southern Canada into Mexico. Most birds living in California, Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas are non-migrants, but some birds in summer will travel as far north as the inter-mountain USA states and southern Canada to breed.

We believe this bird never drinks water, but meets all its moisture needs from the food it eats. Arid and inhospitable places to humans might mean paradise to the hardy Rock Wren. They often build nests under rock crevices, and for reasons not fully understood, they often lay small paving stones in front of the entrance to the nest cavity.

The North American Breeding Bird Survey data shows a 47% decrease in population between 1966 and 2014. In my research, I could not find any conclusions about why the birds are in decline, but with such a large range, there seem to be enough birds around that science has not deemed them as threatened.

Scientists divide Rock Wrens into subspecies separated into 2 groups:

  • Obsoletus Group
    • S. o. obsoletus breeds in Southern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (Canada), south to coastal California, Oklahoma and west Texas, and northern Mexico from Baja California, south to Oaxaca. Northern breeders migrate to southern parts of their range.
    • S. o. guadeloupensis lives on Guadalupe Island (Mexico).
    • S. o. tenuirostris lives on San Benito Island (Mexico).
    • S. o. exsul lived on San Benedicto Island, but went extinct with the 1952 eruption of the island’s volcano.
    • S. o. neglectus lives in southern Mexico to central Honduras.
  • Guttatus Group
    • S. o. guttatus lives in El Salvador.
    • S. o. fasciatus lives in Nicaragua.
    • S. o. costaricensis lives in Costa Rica.

I always enjoy being in the company of wrens, and Rock Wrens are no exception. Most of my encounters with these birds have been in dry, brushy hillside country in east San Diego County, but I’ve also met them in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico deserts, on talus slopes inside the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, and in the brushy desert of Big Bend in Texas.

Click map markers to reveal further information