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


Systematics History

The Canyon Wren is now placed in the genus Catherpes Baird, 1858 (17). Originally in Thryothorus Swainson, 1836, it was transferred to Salpinctes Cabanis, 1847, then finally to Catherpes. Some researchers, however, continued to place it with the Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) in the genus Salpinctes (18).

Geographic Variation

Size varies geographically. Northern individuals are generally smaller than those in southern parts of the range. Larger, rufous-colored individuals occur in the southern portion of range, throughout Mexico; smaller and grayer individuals in the northern portion of range, from southern British Columbia through Baja California, Mexico (Table 1; see also Subspecies).


In the early 1900s, Oberholser (19) and Ridgway (7) recognized five subspecies, but only four were included in the fourth American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list published in 1931 (20). Miller (21) argued that observable plumage and size differences constituted mainly natural variation among populations, and proposed the three subspecies. This arrangement was subsequently recognized by Bent (22) and then by the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1957 (23). Aldrich (24) published an account of C. m. griseus, a smaller, paler, northern subspecies occurring in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon. Grinnell and Behle (25) originally agreed with Miller (21), but later Behle (26) accepted C. m. griseus and extended its range into northern Utah and Idaho, with an extensive area of intergradation throughout central Utah. Phillips (27) recognized eight subspecies, including the naming three new subspecies from Mexico, and Browning (28) later recognized two of these new subspecies. This account follows the classification of the fifth American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list (23) and the eBird/Clements Checklist (29) and recognizes three subspecies.

SLJ and JSD examined 326 study skins and live individuals from throughout the range of the species (Denver Museum of Natural History, n = 20; Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley, n = 163; University of New Mexico Museum, Albuquerque, n = 9; National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, n = 128; data from SLJ, JSD, n = 6). SLJ/JSD found much individual variation, including among larger, more rufous individuals within the range of both C. m. conspersus and C. m. griseus, and smaller more gray individuals from central Mexico, within the range of C. m. mexicanus. The taxonomy of this species awaits a thorough investigation of geographic variation in plumage, morphology, and genetic variation.


Catherpes mexicanus conspersus Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Catherpes mexicanus var. conspersus Ridgway, 1873, American Naturalist 7:603.—near Fort Churchill, Lyon County, Nevada, USA.

The holotype, an adult male collected in the Washoe Mountains, near Fort Churchill, on 7 December 1867 by Robert Ridgway, is held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 53425) (30).

Catherpes mexicanus punctulatus Ridgway, 1882, Proceedings of the United States National Museum 5:343.—Forest Hill, Placer County, and Calaveras River, 30 miles [48 km] east of Stockton, Calaveras County, California, USA. Ridgway had five specimens to hand in describing punctulatus of which he designated two as types (syntypes): an adult male collected at Forest Hill on 7 October 1862 by Ferdinand Gruber, and an adult female taken at the Calaveras River by Lyman Belding on an unknown date in 1879, both of which are held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 82715 and USNM 79154, respectively) (30). Described as intermediate in coloration between nominate mexicanus and C. m. conspersus, with size basically as latter.

Catherpes mexicanus polioptilus Oberholser, 1903, Auk 20:197.—Deer Mountain, elevation 6,500 ft [1,981 m], Chisos Mountains, Texas, USA (19). The holotype is an adult male collected by Harry C. Oberholser on 14 June 1901, and held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 168350) (30).

Catherpes mexicanus griseus Aldrich, 1946, Proceedings of Biological Society of Washington 59:131.—Logy Creek, Yakima Indian Reservation, Yakima County, Washington, USA (24). The holotype is an adult male collected by Stanley G. Jewett on 20 April 1943, and held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 367804) (30). Described as being similar to both C. m. conspersus and (its synonym) C. m. punctulatus, but more grayish than either.

Catherpes mexicanus pallidior A. R. Phillips, 1986, The Known Birds of North and Middle America, Part I, p. 169.—Green River, Wyoming, USA (27). The holotype is a female collected on 20 September 1927 by J. E. Link, and held at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (CM P101836). Considered the palest population of this species (28).

Catherpes mexicanus croizati A. R. Phillips, 1986, The Known Birds of North and Middle America, Part I, p. 170.—La Laguna, Sierra Laguna, Baja California Sur, Mexico (27). There are two syntypes, both females and collected on 26 January 1906 by Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman, and held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 197518 and USNM 197517). Closest to the previous name in the coloration of the upperparts, being generally pale, and considered to be darker on the upperparts than C. m. conspersus and (its synonym) C. m. pallidior, being similar in this respect to two other names treated in synonymy here, griseus and punctulatus (28).


Western United States north to south-central British Columbia, east to Chisos Mountains of western Texas, south to Baja California Sur.

Identification Summary

C. m. conspersus is paler on face, crown, and back, and is smaller than C. m. mexicanus (22).


Catherpes mexicanus albifrons Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Certhia albifrons Giraud, 1841, A description of sixteen new species of North American birds, p. [17], plate [8].—Texas.

The holotype is an adult collected in “1838”, acquired by Jacob P. Giraud Jr., probably via the dealer John G. Bell, and held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 47702) (30).


In United States, from southwestern Oklahoma to central and southwestern Texas, south to northeastern Mexico (Coahuila, Nuevo León).

Identification Summary

The bill of C. m. albifrons averages longer than that of C. m. mexicanus, and its plumage paler, with the upperparts more grayish brown; and it has narrower black bars on the tail (7).


Catherpes mexicanus mexicanus Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Thryothorus mexicanus Swainson, 1829, Zoological Illustrations, Series 2, Volume 1, plate [11].—Real del Monte, Hidalgo, Mexico.

The whereabouts of the type material is unknown; extant specimens used by Swainson to describe new taxa are apparently held almost exclusively in two museums, the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and (to a lesser extent) the Natural History Museum, Tring, but neither institution holds any such material pertaining to this species; however, it has been suggested that some of his types may eventually surface in the Liverpool and Paris museums (31, 32). Swainson’s Mexico types were all collected by William Bullock father and son (32).

Catherpes mexicanus meliphonus Oberholser, 1930, Scientific Publications of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History 1:95.—Alamos [27°01′N, 108°58′E], Sonora, Mexico. The holotype is an adult male collected by M. Abbott Frazar on 14 February 1888, and held at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA (USNM 151924) (30). Described as differing from nominate mexicanus in being somewhat paler and smaller.
Catherpes mexicanus cantator A. R. Phillips, 1966, Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 86:127—south end of Cerro de Buena Vista, 5 km west of Compostela, Nayarit, Mexico (33). There are two syntypes, an adult pair (male and female) collected by Allan R. Phillips on 11 November 1956, and held at the Delaware Museum of Natural History (now Delaware Museum of Nature & Science), Greenville, Delaware, USA (DMNH 18473 and DMNH 18474). Described as being smaller than the nominate mexicanus, with a slenderer bill, and perhaps marginally darker in color (33).


In Mexico, from Sonora and Chihuahua south to Colima and Oaxaca; also, disjunctly, in southwestern Chiapas.

Identification Summary

Described under Plumages.

Related Species

DNA sequencing from nuclear and mitochondrial gene regions indicate that the Sumichrast's Wren (Hylorchilus sumichrasti) and Nava's Wren (Hylorchilus navai), both endemic to Mexico, are sister to Catherpes (34, 35). Hylorchilus differs from Catherpes in tail shape (shorter, more rounded), number of rectrices (10 rather than 12), bill shape (straighter, less decurved), and coloration (darker brown and lacking bright white throat and upper breast) (36, 37).


Unrecorded (38).


Ethno-Ornithology and Names

The Canyon Wren is represented by the Hopi katsina Turposkwa (alternate spellings noted as Turpockwa/Tuposkwa [39]) (40). In Mexico, it can be referred to as Saltapared risquero, Saltapared barranquero, Guardabarranca, Salta-roca, Capichocho, Katzas (Tarasco), or Yancotil (Maya) (41).

Fossil History

Reported from only one late Pleistocene (late Rancholabrean, North American Land Mammal Age, < 400,000 years before present) locality, namely Shelter Cave, New Mexico, USA (42).

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