I hiked up Telegraph Trail on South Mountain yesterday, feeling the heat as the mid morning temperatures climbed into the 80’s. I carried my camera, hoping to get some good photos of the area that the proposed South Mountain bypass freeway would cleave with its eight lanes of truck traffic. But the day was hazy and my pictures turned out less than inspiring. There would surely be more smog with twenty two new miles of freeway.
I sat for awhile on flat boulders at the top of the mountain. The view encompassed miles of the Gila Indian Reservation and the pointy blue ridges of the Sierra Estrella Mountains. In the quiet I noticed the thin repetitive call of a bird. Finally there appeared a busy little wren, hopping around the backside of the boulders near me. She poked her long beak into every crevice, hiding places of bugs and spiders.
This is a rock wren, a resident of arid areas of western North America. Shy and nondescript, the wren is most commonly heard before being seen. According to renowned birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma, the male rock wren has a repertoire of more than 100 songs. This must have been a female, because she only repeated her plaintive call of ta-whee, ta-whee. She was curious of me though and kept working her way nearer. Finally she peeked over the far side of the boulder just five feet away and cocked her head to inspect me more closely.
Aside from their songs, rock wrens are known for building walkways of flat stones to their nest sites. First the rock wrens pair up and choose a cozy looking cavity among the rocks. They bring in small stones, twigs and even trash to make a platform for their nest and then weave grasses and plant parts to make a loose cup. The female adds a soft lining of rootlets, animal fur and spider webs. Smooth, flat rocks are used to construct the pathway, which may be a foot and a half long. No one knows why the path.
Rock wrens nest between April and August, sometimes raising two broods per year. The female lays five to eight eggs. A couple of weeks later the parents must coax the fledglings towards independence, luring them outside the nest with tasty tidbits. The fledglings stay close and continue to be fed by mom and dad for a month before dispersing. Rock wrens are not known to drink water, gaining moisture they need from their insect prey.