Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

Amazing Wrentit Capture

This post was written by banding intern (and former nest searching intern) Hilary Allen with help from Mark Dettling, Banding Supervisor.

An Old Friend

The Palomarin Field Station had a celebrity visitor last month…a female Wrentit who will turn 13 this spring, making her the oldest known Wrentit! The oldest Wrentit recorded on the Bird Banding Laboratory’s longevity website ( is 11 years 11 months old. In the 2014 breeding season, a 12 year and 3 month old female Wrentit (with color bands silver/white-black-orange or S/WKO) nested along the net trail at Palomarin (making her the oldest known Wrentit at the time).

The banding interns and staff felt honored to be in the presence of the oldest Wrentit. This female Wrentit (with color bands red-blue-green/silver or RBG/S) holds a territory only 100 meters from the net trail, but has never been caught. She was originally banded by Renée Cormier as a nestling back in 2002. Last month marked the first time in her 12+ year life that she has encountered a mist net!

Wrentits are found in scrub habitat along the west coast from Oregon down into northern Mexico. They don’t stray far from where they were hatched and often occupy the same ~1 acre territory their entire life. Wrentits also typically stay with the same mate for as long as they both are alive, and are unusual in that both sexes (not just the males) sing, and both sexes (not just the females) incubate the eggs and brood the young on the nest.

RBG/S is an infamous Wrentit to the interns who participate in nest searching on Grid 2 (one of three nest searching areas around the field station). For the past 11 years she has been outsmarting both the gridding interns and supervisors that attempt to follow her. She and her mate are fast and quiet and often manage to build their nest and raise their nestlings while remaining undetected by the humans desperately trying to find them.

Many gridding interns have stories to tell about this very sneaky Wrentit. Below are some excerpts from end-of-season nest searching write-ups about RBG/S and her mate of the past 10 years, OM/RS (color bands orange-mauve/red-silver):

2005: “Quiet, sneaky, unobtrusive pair”

2007: “This pair is VERY sneaky and cryptic…Number of nests not found: Possibly 1. I don’t have evidence to support this, but they had plenty of time to try for the double brood and they are so sneaky, they could have been nesting right under my nose.”

2009: “RBG/S may be the sneakiest wrentit out there. Only seen twice. Very quiet and sneaky and a good mother…[she] was so quiet and sneaky that it took forever to get her color combos even when I could almost pick her off the nest.”

2012: “[RBG/S] is just SO fast and SO silent. If there is any breeze at all, any road noise, anything distracting your mind, good luck [finding her].”

RBG/S got her photo taken with banding interns Adelle Anderson and Hilary Allen, as well as some snazzy new silver and color bands (her old color bands had fallen off and her silver band was getting very thin) before she was released. For Libby Porzig (former nest searching intern and supervisor, and current Point Blue staff member) and Hilary (former nest searching intern) it was an unexpected experience to hold and examine a Wrentit who had given them such grief trying to follow in the field. It was an exciting encounter with a very impressive bird!

Palomain banding interns Adelle Anderson and Hilary Allen with a nearly 13 yr old Wrentit (RBG/S).
Palomain banding interns Adelle Anderson and Hilary Allen with a nearly 13 yr old Wrentit (RBG/S).