Scientific Name: Chamaea fasciata
Pictures: (click for larger images)
A Wrentit who hopped briefly out of the bushes in the Native Fragment area near the Sycamore Tennis Courts. Photo by Jason Finley, 8/31/05.
It had been rustling out of sight inside the bush. Luckily I was ready with the camera when it came out! Photo by Jason Finley, 8/31/05. Wrentit illustration.
-Illustration by Robert C. Stebbins from "Birds of the Campus" (1947) by Dr. Loye Miller.
Description: Medium. 6.5" in length (beak to tail), larger than a sparrow. It is a dull grayish-brown with a long tail often pointed upward. It's a little paler on its underside, has a smallish beak, small wings, and light cream-colored or white eyes.
Sound: You're more likely to hear one than see it. From Cornell's All About Birds Guide: "Song a series of sharp whistled "pit" notes, repeated on the same pitch and occurring more rapidly, followed by descending trill. Call a rattling "churr."" Listen to a Wrentit singing and calling! Link is to the sound page for this bird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds.
Commonality/Seasonality: Rare, but year round. The Wrentit is about as rare as they come for year-round residents here. See notes below for explanation.
Location: The Wrentit's habitat is the chaparral that is native to the California coast.
The only place around here that you stand a chance of hearing or seeing this guy is the Native Fragment. Well, I think there are actually some still-native areas kind of back behind the VA Center, but they're pretty inaccessible. I saw the Wrentit pictured above while birdwatching with friends Bobby Walsh and Joy Sun in the Native Fragment. We were in a section near the Sycamore Tennis Courts and Southern Regional Library when we saw something rustling the bushes. We all froze and stared for several minutes before the Wrentit emerged for a few seconds! It was quite a surprise. At the same time as one came out of the bush, another bird flew in, probably an additional Wrentit, so there could be a pair.
Notes: The Wrentit is an oddball bird. Genetic studies have shown that it is the only American representative of a family of birds called Babblers, which are mostly found in southeast Asia. So the Wrentit is actually not very closely related to any other birds on this continent! That also means its name is somewhat misleading: it is not related to the Wrens (despite cocking its tail upward like them), and it is not related to the Bushtits (despite the fact that its head looks similar, albeit larger, to a Bushtit's head).
The Wrentit prefers to hide out in dense shrubs/bushes. But the really amazing thing is that it stays closer to its place of hatching than almost any other North American bird. This is why, as Bobby explained, it is so surprising that we would have Wrentits here in our specific area. Our Native Fragment is cut off from any other nearby undeveloped tracts of land, so we wouldn't normally expect Wrentits to travel all the way to us to live here. I suppose there could be some that have bred and lived here since way back in the 1950s or so when there was much less development on/around the UCLA campus and more of a connection to wilder lands. But that also seems unlikely.
Historical: Dr. Loye Miller wrote about the "Pallid Wren-tit" as it was known back then:
That "disembodied voice," the Wren-tit, is the only member of a distinct family that is found only along the Pacific side of America from Oregon to Baja California. Every eastern bird watcher who comes to California asks to be shown a wren-tit. Well, don't ask to see him, but you may hear his cheerful piping almost anywhere along the Arroyo. His performance is a succession of round notes all on the same pitch but increasing in tempo like a marble dropped from a three-foot height on a granite slab. You must make his acquaintance. He is the "spirit" of the coastal chaparral.
-Miller, Loye. "Birds of the Campus, University of California, Los Angeles," from University of California Syllabus Series, No. 300. Text by Loye Miller, illustrations by Robert C. Stebbins. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947.