Ochraceous Wren

Costa Rica has 17 different species of wren but don’t worry – the subject of this post, the Ochraceous Wren (Troglodytes ochraceus) is found only in the highlands from about 900 m up and so I’ll deal with only those wrens that you can expect to find on the higher parts of the Turrialba and Irazu volcanoes.

Note too that this is another species found only in Costa Rica and Panama.

I’m prompted to mention this pretty little wren now because of Larry Waddell’s most recent photos, taken high up at El Tapojo on the Turrialba Volcano. Nearly all wrens spend much of their lives hiding in thick vegetation but Larry and John have nonetheless had a good degree of success with their photos thanks to great persistence and occasional dumb luck. Here’s Larry’s almost yellowish-looking Ochraceous Wren in mid-chirrup:

Ochraceous Wren at El Tapojo; photo by Larry Waddell
This Ochraceous Wren from a much earlier occasion was foraging much lower down the volcano slope, at the Calle Vargas-Las Virtudes roads intersection; photo by Larry Waddell

I think that a good aid to identification in the field, apart from elevation and general colouration, is the buffy stripe above the eye, set off against a darker patch or stripe behind the eye. These features show up well both in the photographs above and in the next shot, another file photo from our area:

Ochraceous Wren picks through moss in its usual environment; photo courtesy of Karel Straatman

The only wren in its range that may cause confusion if seen well is probably the common House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), which is considered the most widely distributed bird in the Americas, ranging from Canada to the tip of South America. It certainly can be found at higher elevations in our region but my personal records show it appearing in proximity to the Ochraceous Wren on only a couple of occasions over the course of many years. Here’s one of the listings from ebird: https://ebird.org/checklist/S31499589

The House Wren is, I believe, unlikely to be found inside the thick forest habitat of the Ochraceous Wren, but lighting conditions may at times make identification uncertain. For example, the plumage of Karel’s Ochraceous Wren, above, looks similar to that of Larry’s House Wren, below:

House Wren; photo by Larry Waddell

On a typical mountain field trip in our area the commonest wren by far is actually the Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys), whose loud and varied calls ring out constantly. The following photo is not from our immediate area but clearly shows that a good view will dispel any doubts as to the singer’s identity. In any case the high-pitched twitter of the Ochraceous Wren is quite unlike the wood-wren’s loud and musical tones.

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren at San Gerardo de Dota; photo by John Beer

Just one highland wren species must be mentioned, the Timberline Wren (Thryorchilus browni). This little bird looks much like the Gray-breasted Wood-Wren but with white markings in the wings. Its sweet song is very different to that of the Ochraceous Wren. It is found at much higher elevations only above 2200 m and, again, only in Costa Rica and eastern Panama. I myself have only been able to find it on a couple of occasions and always on the Irazú Volcano, never on our Turrialba Volcano, whose very highest elevations are in any case off limits because of recent volcanic activity. Here’s a photo kindly donated by Richard Garrigues, the author of the definitive field guide The Birds of Costa Rica:

Timberline Wren, making it difficult for photographer Richard Garrigues

Let’s finish with a final photo of the elusive Ochraceous Wren, this time from the Central Valley:

An excellent frontal view of an Ochraceous Wren at Monserrat; photo by John Beer

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