Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Wren (known as the “Winter Wren” in the United States), Troglodytes troglodytes, photographed near the Bridge of Orchy, Scotland. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Dave Rintoul, Summer 2008. [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

A tiny bird with a thin bill and a cocked tail, dark brown with a big supercilium and a bit of barring on the flank: it can only be a wren, and given that we find ourselves in Scotland with this mystery bird, it can only be a Winter Wren, a species that as currently recognized is the only one of its family to occur outside of the Americas.

The rub here, of course, is “as currently recognized.” There are three or four dozen subspecies identifiable throughout this taxon’s holarctic range, two or three dozen of them in Eurasia, the rest in North America. It seems likely that at least a three-way split is in the offing for the “Winter” Wrens, and even homebody American birders like me can make a contribution to our knowledge of the distribution of the various subspecies and subspecies groups. In mainland North America, Winter Wrens divide neatly into eastern and western birds, easily distinguished by plumage (golden-brown and dappled in the west, dark brown and heavily barred in the east) and call note (nasal and Wilson’s-Warber-like in the west, husky and Song-Sparrow-like in the east).

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Bob O'H
    December 29, 2008

    Oooh! One I know. It’s either a troglodyte or a jenny wren. Field marks: general shape, and sicky-up tail.

  2. #2 John Callender
    December 29, 2008

    I’m thinking that’s a Winter Wren. At first I was thinking this would be tough, since I packed away my European field guide some time ago, but some quick work on the Internet reveals that that’s the only wren species found outside North America. And it certainly looks like a Winter Wren to me.

  3. #3 John Callender
    December 29, 2008

    Oops. Make that “the only wren outside of the Americas” (not just North America), according to And I don’t know if the common name is the same on the other side of the pond, so I’ll clarify that I’m talking about Troglodytes troglodytes, which has to be one of the cooler scientific names around, and totally suits those little guys.

  4. #4 The Ridger
    December 29, 2008

    It’s a wren – “sticky up tail” absolutely!

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