Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus Scientific name definitions

Stephanie L. Jones, Joseph Scott Dieni, Nathanial B. Warning, David Leatherman, Lorraine Dargis, and Lauryn Benedict
Version: 2.0 — Published January 6, 2023

Photos from this Account

Stocky-chested with a long tail and bill. Rusty brown overall with barring on the wings and tail. Its throat and chest are white.

Sings a descending cascade of liquid notes. Note white throat and chestnut belly with varying amounts of black and white speckling.

Medium-sized wren with a long tail and bill. Rusty brown overall with barring on the wings and tail and a white throat and chest.

Found near cliffs, canyons, rocky outcrops, and boulder piles often bobbing up and down.

A Canyon Wren.
Canyon Wren.
Possible confusion species: Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus).

Canyon Wren is distinguished from Rock Wren by having a brighter white throat and breast contrasting sharply with a darker belly. The Rock Wren is much paler with a grayish-brown back, and a dull white throat and breast blending into cinnamon to buff belly, flanks, and undertail coverts.

Possible confusion species: Nava's Wren (Hylorchilus navai).

Compared to this species, Canyon Wren is paler with more dark spotting and a longer tail.

Possible confusion species: Sumichrast's Wren (Hylorchilus sumichrasti).

Compared to this species, Canyon Wren is paler with more dark spotting and a longer tail.

Juvenile Canyon Wren 

Juveniles resemble adults but are duller and variably grayer. The black-and-white speckling to the upperparts and upperwing coverts is lacking or less distinct. The body feathers are looser in structure due to lower barb densities. The yellow gape is swollen and more prominent than in older birds.

Juvenile Canyon Wren 

Plumage varies in color hue, and darker Juveniles can show black flecks to the throat and breast. Note also the juvenile greater coverts, barred with rufous tips.

Juvenile Canyon Wren (undergoing Preformative Molt)

Some lesser and median coverts have been replaced, contrasting with the more-worn juvenile greater coverts, barred and with rufous tips.

Formative Canyon Wren

Formative Plumage is best distinguished from Definitive Basic Plumage by molt limits among the wing coverts. Here the outer 3-4 greater coverts have been retained and are juvenile, within cinnamon tips, contrasting with the replaced formative inner coverts with whitish tips. The primary coverts are relatively worn, more heavily barred, and have rufous tips. The barring to the secondaries and primaries lines up better than in birds following a complete molt.

Formative Canyon Wren

Here most juvenile greater coverts have been retained and contrast with the replaced formative median coverts.

Formative Canyon Wren

Note the replaced formative tertials, contrasting in freshness with the remaining remiges. The outer 3-4 greater coverts are juvenile, more worn and with rufous tips, the primaries and rectrices are relatively narrow and worn, and the juvenile remiges do not show molt clines.

Definitive Basic Canyon Wren

Definitive Basic Plumage is characterized by all upperwing feathers being uniform in wear, the greater and primary coverts being uniformly fresh and showing less-distinct blackish markings, and the greater coverts with whitish or cinnamon rather than rufous tips. Primaries and rectrices are relatively dark, broad, and fresh, and the barring across the remiges tends to be uneven following complete molts.

Definitive Basic Canyon Wren

Rectrices are broad and fresh. Upon close inspection, the primaries show a freshness cline from slightly more worn p1 to fresher p10 and more worn s1 to fresher s6, reflecting replacement sequences during the Definitive Prebasic Molt.

Definitive Basic Canyon Wren

Upperwing feathers are uniform in wear and show less-distinct barring than in Juvenile and Formative plumages. An older bird band helps confirm Definitive Basic Plumage.

Lateral view (subspecies conspersus).
Frontal view (subspecies conspersus).
Lateral view (subspecies albifrons).
Frontal view (subspecies albifrons).
Dorsal view (subspecies albifrons).
Lateral view (subspecies mexicanus).
Frontal view (subspecies mexicanus).
Dorsal view (subspecies mexicanus).
Bird in its habitat; Idaho, United States.
Bird in its habitat; Colorado, United States.
Canyon Wren habitat; California, United States.
Bird in its habitat; Arizona, United States.
Bird in its habitat; Texas, United States.
Bird in its habitat; Tlaxcala, Mexico.
A bird flycatching.
Long and slender bill, flat head, and short tarsi are morphological adaptations for foraging in rock crevices and interstitial spaces.
Adult carrying a spider.
Adult carrying an insect larva.
Lepidoptera are regular prey for the Canyon Wren.
A bird at standing water
Canyon Wren bowing to the side.
Adult collecting nest material; March, California, United States.
Adult feeding nestlings; June, California, United States.
Adult at nest with nestlings; May, Arizona, United States.
Adult close to its nest in rock hole.
Nest with chicks in tree cavity.
Adult nesting in Cliff Swallow nest.
Adult collecting nest material.
Adult collecting nest material.
Adult with nest material close to its nest.
Canyon Wren nest from northern Colorado.
Canyon Wren entering nest within old Cliff Swallow nest.
Adult feeding nestlings.
Canyon Wren fledgling on cliff.
Adult feeding fledgling.

Macaulay Library Photos for Canyon Wren

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

Recommended Citation

Jones, S. L., J. S. Dieni, N. B. Warning, D. Leatherman, L. Dargis, and L. Benedict (2023). Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.canwre.02