Wrenthrush – Not a wren and not a thrush

Wrenthrush (Zeledonia coronata): Zeledonia; Zaunkönigsänger; Zélédonie couronnée

Wrenthrush sitting pretty; photo by John Beer

Here’s another bird associated with chusquea, the highland bamboo. The cloud forest on the upper slopes of the Turrialba Volcano contains several rather secretive endemic species that are often heard but seldom seen. The Wrenthrush is one of them. If I kept a separate listing of Birds Glimpsed this one would definitely be on it. But last week’s trip up the Los Bajos road – above the hamlet of Las Abras but before the final steep drop to Los Bajos del Volcán – turned out to be different. We heard the Wrenthrush at more than one location, which is perhaps not so unusual. But this time a combination of persistence and sheer good luck brought some clear views of this strange little bird.

One of our first good views of the Wrenthrush; photo by John Beer

The stated aim of the trip was to relocate, with Steven’s help, the equally secretive, but very rare Blue Seedeater that featured in my earlier post – that bird too would definitely be on my Birds Glimpsed list. The day started shrouded in mist, as is typical, I’m sure you’ve guessed, in a cloud forest.

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus; photo by John Beer

The core species for flocks in this area and at this high elevation are usually the Sooty-capped Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus pileatus) and the Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii), which travel in small groups. On this day, this was indeed the case. The tanager appears in this next photo taken through the neblina, which gives a good idea of the conditions, but the more interesting bird for us was the rather uncommon male Barred Becard (Pachyramphus versicolor) sitting beside it:

Cloud forest conditions on the Los Bajos road; photo by John Beer

The real star of the show, despite its generally understated plumage, was definitely the Wrenthrush. It is unrelated to either thrushes or wrens, though it resembles the latter because of its short tail and also in its furtive movements in the understory. It was previously called Zeledonia, after a Costa Rican ornithologist. Recent DNA studies show that its recent allocation to the New World Warblers is also incorrect and that it stands, for the time being and as in former times, alone in its own family, Zeledoniidae!! Here’s one of a pair – sexes look alike – whistling rather loudly:

Loquacious Wrenthrush seeking attention; photo by John Beer

The most striking feature, one might even say the only striking feature, is its orange-to-russet crown. This is sometimes raised in fairly spectacular fashion, though not unfortunately for us:

The Wrenthrush’s plumage is mostly grey, but the wings do contrast nicely; photo by John Beer

As the little fellow finally beats a hasty retreat we get a tempting glimpse of said crown:

Retreating Wrenthrush and a tantalising view of the crown; photo by John Beer

A final look at one of the most interesting birds of the highland cloud forest:

Wrenthrush; photo by John Beer

You will find the day’s checklist of some 38 really great birds plus, as usual, some more of John’s photographs at:


By the way, despite masses of highland bamboo the Blue Seedeater was nowhere to be found.

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