Texas has more confirmed bird sightings than any other state in our union; the total number is in the neighborhood of 635 species. The principal reason for the abundance of birdlife is the state’s location in the central region of the country where the birds of the wetter habitats of the eastern states transition to the drier habitats of the western states. The 100th meridian is often cited as the dividing line between eastern and western bird species, but the boundary is much broader than a specific meridian. The Hill Country is a major part of this transition zone and helps explain why almost two thirds of the Texas bird sightings have been recorded in the Edwards Plateau and the Hill Country.
Nine species of wrens occur in North America; all occur in Texas; and most have been seen in the Edwards Plateau. The least likely species seen here would be the Sedge Wren which prefers wet meadows. However, these wrens do migrate through our region twice a year. I should point out that the Winter Wren has been recently split into two separate species, and I think both occur in Texas. I have not written recently about one of my favorite wrens, the Canyon Wren, who frequents the canyons of the Hill Country.
Canyon Wrens are easily identified by their rufous plumage and bright white breasts and throats. Wrens are generally considered to be secretive, excluding the Bewick’s and Carolina wrens who are determined to build nests in your garage. The Canyon Wren tries to be secretive as he probes the nooks and crannies of canyon walls, but when he opens his mouth, he blows both his cover and identity. His interesting song is a loud series of falling notes, “tee, tee, tee, tee, tee, tew, tew, tew.” In canyon country, his distinctive cascading songs can be heard long before you see him.
Like many of his close relatives, Canyon Wrens have a habit of bobbing – full of energy, perky, and fun to watch and listen to as they entertain you. Their long, slender, de-curved bills are ideal for probing cracks in the rocks for hiding spiders and other insects. A pair of wrens tend to work together in their search, always calling out with a low whistle, “jeet,” to signal their respective locations.
Canyon wrens are cavity nesters and often prefer a hole or crack in a rock face as a site to build their nests. The bare face of a rock wall also offers these birds excellent security from predators. If you are fortunate to have a pair in your neighborhood, they will use nest boxes. Both parents tend to their young, which may reach a total of five or six nestlings. It takes both parents working full time to find enough spiders and bugs to keep their brood happy.
Kerrville is located in the heart of canyon country, so it should not be hard to find a pair of Canyon Wrens. I have noticed that these wrens love the old rock walls that are common in the Hill Country where the early settlers cleared their prospective fields of rocks. These rock walls have many places to find spiders and insects, while also providing many compartments for nesting. Rock wall nest sites are not going to provide the birds as much protection from predators as cliff faces, but birds are risk takers and opportunistic in using available nest sites.
A reasonably sure site for finding Canyon Wrens in the area is Easter Pageant Hill on the east side of Junction. On a spring or summer day, park in the lot below the three wooden crosses and listen for their cascading call coming from the hillside. If they are not calling, you might walk up some of the trails, but please keep an eye out for rattlesnakes that also live in the area. If you are watching where you walk, you can avoid any possible encounters. This is good advice for being attentive wherever you might be birding – watch were you put your hands and feet.