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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birding = A Whole lot of Wrens Going On

The Wren is a plain yet spunky little bird. By chance, it also has the distinction of being the bird after which all other members of its family were named. Well, at least officially named in the English language.

If we think about the many vocal and equally personable members of its family that grace tangles, cacti, rocks, and other places replete with nooks and crannies, I’m sure hundreds of local cultures in the Americas also had plenty of names for wrens.

I wonder how many names referred to their loud, vociferous nature? How many had names synonymous with gnomes and tiny forest elves? Were some named after their habitat? Others for their behavior?

Here in Costa Rica, wrens can be known as “cucaracheros” (cockroachers) and the Rufous-naped Wren is the “chico-piojo’ or “louse kid”. I know, sounds odd but not when you hear Rufous-naped Wrens sing. With a bit of imagination, their vocalizations do sort of sound like they are exclaiming funky name. As far as cockroaches go, that makes sense, I bet the hardy bugs also feature in many a wren’s diet.

In Costa Rica, there have surely been many names for the local reps of the Troglodytidae. More than a few wrens creep, sing, and shuffle foliage in these lands. More like two dozen species!

Yeah, if we lump Isthmian back with Cabanis’s, there would be 23 but that’s still a heck of a lot of wrens going on. It’s much more than the number of wrens in the entire USA and about the same as Ecuador. Our couple dozen wren species don’t quite match the wren diversity in Mexico or Colombia (30 plus species in each country!) but imagine 24 wren species packed into West Virginia and you get the picture.

How Can so Many Wrens live in Costa Rica?

Our local abundance of wrens is probably explained by some of the same reasons why so many other bird species live in this birdy land. Some wrens like the lowlands, other are in the highlands, some prefer dry or moist forest, and other wrens are into humid conditions.

Then there are wrens that evolved to live on one side of the mountains and vice-versa.

I suspect the bug factor plays another role. Heavy rain and humidity mean lots of bugs hiding in dead leaf clusters, abounding in leaf litter, and generally inhabiting the many hiding places afforded by crazy amounts of tropical vegetation.

In other words, Costa Rica is a perfect place for wrens, several of which are adapted to different types of second growth.

Wren Hotspots

Do wren hotspots actually exist? Does anyone actually care to visit a wren hotspot? These are valid questions, at least for the serious wren-chasing birder.

Being an aficionado of biodiversity and all things avian, I, for one, enjoy visiting any and all birding hotspots. If I can see more wrens, I’m all for it! I want to see those creeping feathered characters but perhaps even more so, I want to hear them.

Wrens are natural masters of the vocal trade and I love to enter their realms and soak up the music. You’ll hear a wren or two no matter where you go birding in Costa Rica but to experience the real wren orchestra, you gotta greet the dawn at wren hotspots.

Around Carara, Rufous-naped Wrens and Cabanis’s Wrens chortle from dry, open and brushy areas. Don’t forget about House Wrens and if it’s dry enough, Banded Wrens will sing from the woods too. In riparian zones and the viny forest edge, Rufous-breasted Wrens and Rufous-and-white Wrens vie for center stage.

A Banded Wren.

Personally, I think it’s hard to beat the quick hollow whistled songs of the Rufous-and-white but the Rufous-breasted never stops trying. Get into rainforest and you’ll hear the loud, quick songs of Riverside Wrens. Listen carefully and you might also hear high-pitched descending notes floating out of a ravine. It’ll be tough to see it but at least you’ll know there’s a Scaly-breasted Wren nearby.

That’s eight wrens for the band but there’s still room for one more! From dense, humid thickets, the snazzy Black-bellied Wren lends its voice for a total of 9 wren species bird rocking the habitats around Carara!

The Carara ecotone is pretty good for wrens but it’s not the only wren hotspot in Costa Rica.

Travel to the other side of the mountains and we also find some pretty wreny spots. In particular, foothill rainforest stands out. Go birding around Arenal or Nectar and Pollen or other similar spots and you’ll hear Bay Wrens chattering at the edge, cool Black-throated Wrens singing from older, dark tangles, and the confusing songs of White-breasted Wood Wrens and Stripe-breasted Wrens in the forest.


High in the trees, Band-backed Wrens join mixed flocks, investigate bromeliads, and make weird, raspy calls. Down low, a Nightingale Wren sings like a happy go lucky person lost in the woods. If you are lucky, you might also hear the cool, musical notes of the gnomish Song Wren.

Exit the forest and you might be greeted by the voices of House and Canebrake Wrens. That makes for 9 wren species too! Not to mention, it doesn’t take much to go upslope a little bit and add two more wrens to the total.

Bay Wren

Go north and you’ll reach the third wren hotspot in Costa Rica- Cano Negro. In the forest, woodlands, and scrub of Canno Negro, wren diversity also reaches an impressive 9 species. The roster includes the same birds as foothill rainforest but switches out the Nightingale Wren for Spot-breasted Wren.

Rare Wrens in Costa Rica

Although some are naturally tough to see, most wrens in Costa Rica are pretty common. With some patience and occasional waving away of tiny flying insects, you’ll eventually lays eyes on the wren prize.

However, there are a few species that are especially tough to see or are just plain rare. In a family of renowned skulkers, the Nightingale and Scaly-breasted Wrens excel. These two birds are pretty easy to hear but notoriously difficult to see!

Yeah, you’d think they would be doing the usual wren thing of hustling for bugs between bouts of chattering but not so. This pair of wwird little birds are either too refined for such mundane behavior, way too shy, prefer not to be seen, or have cloaking devices we are unaware of.

Nightingale Wren uncloaked.

Whatever the reason, these solitary birds are very difficult to see. It can be done but you’ve got to call them in or track down singing birds and test your patience. Since it’s technically illegal to use playback in official protected areas, you’ll need to go the ultra-patient route there.

Song Wrens are also tricky. Bird in the right places for them and they aren’t too bad but despite their beautiful voices, the little birds aren’t really fans of the limelight. They do like Army Ants though! Find those wonderful, voracious predators where Song Wrens live and you’ll see the birds.

Now those wrens mentioned above can be tricky to see but they aren’t actually rare. Timberline Wren? Not rare either but yeah, you do need to go way up to the tops of mountains and they can get skulky too.

The rare label goes to the Grass Wren and, most of all, the Rock Wren. In Costa Rica, Grass Wrens are very local and probably endangered. Although us birders have found them in more places than expected, any of their sedge and wet, grassy field habitats are few in number and under constant threat.

As for the Rock Wren, although adventuring to see it would be admirable, you are better off looking for the bird elsewhere. At least that would be a far easier endeavor. In Costa Rica, all we can do is assume that some live in a few rocky places in northern Guanacaste.

Assuming is necessary because no one has reported a Rock Wren in Costa Rica for a number of years, even experienced guides that watch birds pretty close to where Rock Wrens are supposed to be. I figure they are still out there but maybe in very few spots and/or remote areas far from roads.

Want to see wrens in Costa Rica? We’ve got a lot and these aren’t your The Wren or Winter or Pacific Wrens either! More like babblerish birds with cool plumage patterns and serious chords. Use the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app to learn their songs and get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica. Find birds in Costa Rica and support this blog with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

I hope to see you birding here, most of all, I hope you hear the local wren orchestra.