Glimpsing a wren's rare behavior

A small brown bird presses its head to the ground


In the montane cloud forests of Colombia’s Andes mountains, it’s not uncommon to hear the melodious, high-pitched calls of gray-breasted wood-wrens ringing out through the trees. But spotting these shy, ground-dwelling birds is much less common—you may see them flit by briefly, but they’re typically difficult to see because they’re so well-camouflaged in dense undergrowth.

One January morning in 2020, I was hiking with an ornithologist friend when I noticed this puff of a bird clumsily flipping through leaf litter. Soon, I realized it was exhibiting a foraging behavior never documented in this species—it was pressing its ear to the forest floor to listen for insects. I knew I wanted to take a photo. But getting an impromptu shot can be tricky; it requires anticipating the animal’s behavior. I found a small patch of dry vegetation I hoped would attract the hungry youngster and waited.

Eventually, the bird hopped into the frame and placed its head on the ground just long enough for me to press the shutter.

Photographers often overlook the gray-breasted wood-wren in favor of less ordinary, more showy wildlife. But the ability to capture smaller and misunderstood species drives my passion for photography. We care about what we understand, and powerful images like this one can spark empathy for animals that are often out of the spotlight.

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