Chamaea or Wrentit

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Much discussion has occurred in the past about the taxonomic position of Chamaea (in other words whether Chamea, should form an entire family of birds, or if it should be an individual genus within a larger already-existing family).  The chamaeae was originally a genus instituted by Gambel (Proc. Ac. N. S. Philad. 1847, p. 154) for a curious little bird from the coast-district of California, which he had previously described (op. cit. 1845, p. 265) as Parus fasciatus but later was considered to require separation.

In the difficulty of assigning a position to this and a later discovered congeneric form which was known as Chamaea henshawi, from the interior of the same country, 19th Century systematists resorted to considering the genus as the type and sole member of a distinct Family Chamaeidae, which would have made it the the only Family of Land-birds that is peculiar to the Nearctic area.

Thus it became a factor of some impotance in determining the question whether that area should rank as a Zoogeographical or at least as an Ornithogeographical Region.  It is impossible here to give details of a matter which agitated the best ornithologists of North America, and reference can only be made to Dr. Shufeldt's paper "On the position of Chamaea in the System," published in 1889 at Boston in Massachusetts (Journ. Morphol. iii. pp. 475-502), wherein the evidence was very carefully weighed, and the conclusion reached was to the effect that it is more nearly related to the Colombian Cinnicerthia than to any other, but the author abstained from declaring the value of Chamaeidae as a Family, though of the two, to one or other of which it had generally been referred - namely the Paridae family (TITMOUSE) and Troglodytidae family (WREN) - he saw most resemblance to the former.

So far as one can judge from the habits of the birds as described by observers, they are more those of a Wren than of a Titmouse; while the blueish eggs which lays removes it really from the category of either. In the absence then of any very strong reason for disputing what has been asserted by no mean authorities, it was thought in the late 19th Century to let the Family Chamaeidae stand.

Even in modern early 21st Century ornithology, the exact classification of Chamaea is uncertain.  Some classification structures place Chamaea as a genus within the Sylviidae family (Sylviidae being Old world Warblers).  Others including the American Ornithologists Union place it within the Timaliidae family (Babblers).

Whichever classification is used, the only species now within the Chamaea genus is Chamaea fasciata, known also as the Wrentit.  It has also been referred to as "Ground Wren" and "Bush-Tit" (although Bushtits are a wholly different species, being the Psaltriparus minimus species in the Psaltriparus genus within the Aegithalidae family).

Description of the Wrentit or Chamaea

The Wrentit is a tiny bird, around 15 centimeteres in length, who inhabits and nests in areas of dense shrubs, bushes and woods.  It feeds on insects, particularly ants and bugs, and caterpillars which it finds by moving stealthily through the bushes and similar environments.  It is also particular to small berries and some seeds.

It has a short bill but its tail is noticeably long, and is often held upwards.  The bird's plumage is a plain grey,  brownish or olive colour.

Although it is quite a shy bird, it has quite a loud song which sounds like a bright but gentle football whistle being blown at sharp intervals, around three tuwrrr sounds in the first one or two seconds, then 5 more in quicker succession, about two or 3 times as fast as the initial three.

The Wren tit is a non-migratory bird, but destruction of its natural habitat has resulted in it having entended its range to the North.  Currently it resides in a thin band of land near to the Western coast of Northern America, from Baja California to the state of Washington.

Pairs of Wrentits begin to bond just a few months after they have hatched.  They are monogamous birds.  Both the male and female help to build their nest, which is normally constructed in bushy plants at a height of about a meter.  The construction takes around 2 weeks to complete.  The female wrentit lays three to five plain greeny blue eggs which both the mother and father bird take part in incubating over a 14 day period.  After this time the chicks hatch, and about 15 days after hatching the young birds leave the nest although they are still not able to fly at this time.  Their parents feed the young birds for a further 40 days after they have left the nest.


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