Winter Wren

Winter Wren| Troglodytes hiemalis

enamel paint on paper

Winter wren info via Wikipedia

Winter wren
Troglodytes hiemalis Central Park NY.jpg
In Central Park, New York.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Troglodytidae
Genus: Troglodytes (disputed)
Subgenus: T. (Nannus)
Species: T. hiemalis
Binomial name
Troglodytes hiemalis
Viellot, 1819

Olbiorchilus hiemalis
Nannus hiemalis

The winter wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) is a very small North American bird and a member of the mainly New World wren family Troglodytidae. It was once lumped with Troglodytes pacificus of western North America and Troglodytes troglodytes of Eurasia under the name winter wren.

It breeds in coniferous forests from British Columbia to the Atlantic Ocean. It migrates through and winters across southeastern Canada, the eastern half the United States and (rarely) north-eastern Mexico. Small numbers may be casual in the western United States and Canada.

The scientific name is taken from the Greek word troglodytes (from "trogle" a hole, and "dyein" to creep), meaning "cave-dweller", and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices while hunting arthropods or to roost.


9–10 cm. Small tail is often cocked above its back, and short neck gives the appearance of a small brown ball. Rufous brown above, grayer below, barred with darker brown and gray, even on wings and tail. The bill is dark brown, the legs pale brown. Young birds are less distinctly barred. Most are identifiable by the pale "eyebrows" over their eyes.


By studying the songs and genetics of individuals in an overlap zone between Troglodytes hiemalis and Troglodytes pacificus, Toews and Irwin (2008)[2] found strong evidence of reproductive isolation between the two. It was suggested that the pacificus subspecies be promoted to the species level designation of Troglodytes pacificus with the common name of "Pacific wren. By applying a molecular clock to the amount of mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence between the two,[3] it was estimated that Troglodytes pacificus and Troglodytes troglodytes last shared a common ancestor approximately 4.3 million years ago, long before the glacial cycles of the Pleistocene, thought to have promoted speciation in many avian systems inhabiting the boreal forest of North America.[4]


A migrant in Chicago, Illinois

The winter wren nests mostly in coniferous forests, especially those of spruce and fir, where it is often identified by its long and exuberant song. Although it is an insectivore, it can remain in moderately cold and even snowy climates by foraging for insects on substrates such as bark and fallen logs.

Its movements as it creeps or climbs are incessant rather than rapid; its short flights swift and direct but not sustained, its tiny round wings whirring as it flies from bush to bush.

At night, usually in winter, it often roosts, true to its scientific name, in dark retreats, snug holes and even old nests. In hard weather it may do so in parties, either consisting of the family or of many individuals gathered together for warmth.

For the most part insects and spiders are its food, but in winter large pupae and some seeds are taken.


The male builds a small number of nests. These are called "cock nests" but are never lined until the female chooses one to use.

The normal round nest of grass, moss, lichens or leaves is tucked into a hole in a wall, tree trunk, crack in a rock or corner of a building, but it is often built in bushes, overhanging boughs or the litter which accumulates in branches washed by floods.

Five to eight white or slightly speckled eggs are laid in April, and second broods are reared.


  1. ^ "BirdLife International Species factsheet: Troglodytes troglodytes". BirdLife International. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  2. ^ Toews, David P. L.; Darren E. Irwin (2008). "Cryptic speciation in a Holarctic passerine revealed by genetic and bioacoustic analyses". Molecular Ecology. 17 (11): 2691–2705. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2008.03769.x. ISSN 0962-1083. PMID 18444983. 
  3. ^ Drovetski, S. V.; R. M. Zink; S. Rohwer; I. V. Fadeev; E. V. Nesterov; I. Karagodin; E. A. Koblik; Y. A. Red'kin (2004). "Complex biogeographic history of a Holarctic passerine" (PDF). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 271 (1538): 545–551. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2638. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 1691619Freely accessible. PMID 15129966. 
  4. ^ Weir, J. T.; D. Schluter (2004). "Ice sheets promote speciation in boreal birds". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 271 (1551): 1881–1887. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2803. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 1691815Freely accessible. PMID 15347509. 



Great-tailed Grackle

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Great-tailed Grackle | Quiscalus mexicanus


collected 2009, Wooten Park, Austin, Travis County, Texas, USA

printed March 2012

enamel paint and clay on paper

My wife came home recently with a freshly dead male great-tailed grackle that she’d found in the park near our house. Not sure what it died of, but it was in perfect condition for printing. This is one of the most under-appreciated birds in Austin. Most people are annoyed by them since they have a habit of begging for food and congregating in huge flocks in the evenings causing a lot of noise and poop. Besides all of that, these are one of my favorite birds. They’re very smart and only get close enough to people to snag food as they leave their dinning tables or to receive handouts from a distance. I’ve never been able to coax one close enough to touch. They are also extremely beautiful in the spring – males are black with blue iridescent areas and yellow eyes. In the fall they molt and look really tattered.

Great-tailed grackle info via Wikipedia:


Great-tailed grackle
Quiscalus mexicanusMPCCA20061226-0567B.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Icteridae
Genus: Quiscalus
Species: Q. mexicanus
Binomial name
Quiscalus mexicanus
(JF Gmelin, 1788)
Quiscalus mexicanus.svg
Range of Quiscalus mexicanus

The great-tailed grackle or Mexican grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) is a medium-sized, highly social passerine bird native to North and South America. A member of the family Icteridae, it is one of ten extant species of grackle and is closely related to the boat-tailed grackle and the slender-billed grackle.[2] It is sometimes erroneously referred to as a "blackbird" in the southern United States,[3] although blackbirds belong to the genus Euphagus. Similarly, it is often called "cuervo" in areas of Mexico owing to its glossy black plumage, although it is not a member of the genus Corvus, nor even of the family Corvidae.



Great-tailed grackles are medium-sized birds (larger than starlings and smaller than crows; 38 cm (15 in)-46 cm (18 in)) with males weighing 203 g (7.2 oz)-265 g (9.3 oz) and females between 115 g (4.1 oz)-142 g (5.0 oz), and both sexes have long tails.[4] Males are iridescent black with a purple-blue sheen on the feathers of the head and upper body, while females are brown with darker wings and tail.[4] Adults of both sexes have bright yellow eyes, while juveniles of both sexes have brown eyes and brown plumage like females (except for streaks on the breast).[4] Great-tailed grackles, particularly the adult males, have a keel-shaped tail that they can fold vertically by aligning the two halves.[5]

The great-tailed grackle and boat-tailed grackle were considered the same species until genetic analyses distinguished them as two separate species.[6]

Distribution and habitat

Breeding display by male, CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Originally from Central and South America, great-tailed grackles expanded their breeding range by over 5500% by moving north into North America between 1880 and 2000, following urban and agricultural corridors.[7][8] Their current range stretches from northwest Venezuela and western Colombia and Ecuador in the south to Minnesota in the north, to Oregon, Idaho, and California in the west, to Florida in the east, with vagrants occurring as far north as southern Canada. Their habitat for foraging is on the ground in clear areas such as pastures,[4] wetlands and mangroves.[7]


Great-tailed grackles are noted for their diverse foraging habits. They extract larvae and insects from grassy areas; eat lizards, nestlings, and eggs; forage in freshly plowed land; remove parasites from cattle; and eat fruits (e.g., bananas, berries) and grains (e.g., maize, corn on the cob by opening the husks).[5] They turn over objects to search for food underneath, including crustaceans, insects, and worms, they hunt tadpoles and fish by wading into shallow water, and although they do not swim, they catch fish by flying close to the water's surface, and are even reported to dive a few inches into the water to retrieve a fish.[5] They are also known to pick dead insects off the license plates of parked cars,[9] and kill barn swallows while flying.[10]


Great-tailed grackles have an unusually large repertoire of vocalizations that are used year-round. Males use a wider variety of vocalization types, while females engage mostly in "chatter", however there is a report of a female performing the "territorial song".[4] Because of their loud vocalizations, great-tailed grackles are considered a pest species by some.[11]

A male Great-Tailed Grackle, making its distinctive call

They communally roost in trees or the reeds of wetlands at night and, during the breeding season, they nest in territories using three different mating strategies: 1) territorial males defend their territory on which many females place their nests and raise young, 2) residential males live in the larger colony but do not defend a territory or have mates, and 3) transient males stay for a few days before leaving the colony to likely move onto another colony.[12] Resident and transient males sire a small number of offspring through extra pair copulations with females on territories. Territorial males are heavier and have longer tails than non-territorial males, and both of these characteristics are associated with having more offspring.[12]

Grackles can solve Aesop's Fable tests - a problem involving a tube that is partially filled with water and a floating out of reach piece of food.[13] The problem is solved by dropping objects into the water to raise the level and bring the food within reach. They are also behaviorally flexible, changing their preferences quickly in response to changes in cognitive tasks.[13]

In culture

In Mexico, where it is known as the chanate or zanate, there is a legend that it has seven songs. "In the creation, the Zanate having no voice, stole its seven distinct songs from the wise and knowing sea turtle. You can now hear the Zanate's vocals as the Seven Passions (Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Joy, Sadness, and Anger) of life." Mexican artisans have created icons in clay, sometimes as whistles that portray the sea turtle with the zanate perched on its back.[7][citation needed]

Statue of maria mulata in Cartagena

In Colombia, the species is called Maria mulata,[14] and is the official bird of Cartagena de Indias[citation needed]. Cartagena artist, Enrique Grau, had an affinity for these birds and because of his inspiration many Colombian monuments and artistic works were created in honor of its intelligence, adaptability, cheerfulness, sociability and collaborative tendencies, diligence, craftiness, and ability to take advantage of adversity.[15]

In Austin, Texas, it is commonly found congregating near the city's numerous food trucks.[16]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Quiscalus mexicanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Powell, A.F.L.A., F.K. Barker and S.M. Lanyon. 2008. A complete species-level phylogeny of the grackles (Quiscalus spp.), including the extinct Slender-billed Grackle, inferred from mitochondrial DNA. Condor 110:718-728.
  3. ^ "Eight Reasons Grackles are Awesome". Texas Monthly. Retrieved February 19, 2015. *
  4. ^ a b c d e Johnson & Peer (2001). The Birds of North America Online. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
  5. ^ a b c Skutch, AF (1954). Life histories of Central American birds. Berkeley, CA: Cooper Ornithological Society. 
  6. ^ DaCosta; et al. (2008). "Historic genetic structuring and paraphyly within the Great-tailed Grackle". Condor. 110 (1): 170–177. doi:10.1525/cond.2008.110.1.170. 
  7. ^ a b c Wehtje, W (2003). "The range expansion of the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus Gmelin) in North America since 1880". Journal of Biogeography. 30: 1593–1607. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2699.2003.00970.x. 
  8. ^ Peer, BD (2011). "Invasion of the Emperor's grackle". Ardeola. 58 (2): 405–409. doi:10.13157/arla.58.2.2011.405. 
  9. ^ Grabrucker & Grabrucker (2010). "Rare Feeding Behavior of Great-Tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) in the Extreme Habitat of Death Valley". The Open Journal of Ornithology. 3: 101–104. doi:10.2174/1874453201003010101. 
  10. ^ Clapp, RB (1986). "Great-tailed grackle kills barn swallow in flight". Wilson Bulletin. 98 (4): 614–615. 
  11. ^ "UT's war on grackles" (PDF). The Daily Texan. Retrieved January 6, 2013. * Hermes JJ (2005). UT's war on grackles. Daily Texan. section. 8A.
  12. ^ a b Johnson; et al. (2000). "Male mating strategies and the mating system of great-tailed grackles". Behavioral Ecology. 11 (2): 132–141. doi:10.1093/beheco/11.2.132. 
  13. ^ a b Logan, CJ (2016). "Behavioral flexibility and problem solving in an invasive bird". PeerJ. 4: 1975. doi:10.7717/peerj.1975. PMC 4860340Freely accessible. PMID 27168984. 
  14. ^ "Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) (Gmelin, JF, 1788)". Avibase: The World data bird base. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "Cartagena La Heróica: María Mulata". Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  16. ^ "Troublesome great-tailed grackle spreads north, west". Retrieved 14 August 2016. 

Further reading

  • Johnson, K., and B. D. Peer. 2001. Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus). In The Birds of North America, No. 576 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
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