If there is one soloist in the winter bird choir, it has to be the Carolina wren. While snow and wind skate across the fields, this bundle of energy remains undaunted, loudly chortling its heart out. If you could hold it in your hands, it would exude warmth just by virtue of its big musical personality.
The wonderful songs are only part of its charm offensive. Everything about this petite bird (it weighs less than an ounce) makes it fun to watch. Its cinnamon toast color and artfully drawn white eyebrows set it apart from the house wrens we see in the summer. They are curious birds, too, hopping in and out of patio furniture, porch fans and anything else that looks interesting to them.
Another great thing about Carolina wrens is that they love bird feeders in winter. They aren’t very particular about what they like to eat so they are easy to attract to your yard. Suet, peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds are all favorites.
Unlike bad boys such as starlings and blue jays, who are constantly scrapping with each other and everybody else at the feeders, Carolina wrens seem to play well with their bird cousins. I’ve never seen a Carolina wren chase off other birds. Maybe they watch reruns of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to learn how to get along with everyone. Too bad the blue jays and starlings don’t watch Mr. Rogers, too!
Come spring they will switch to their usual diet of spiders, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers among other insects. Throw together a small brush pile and they will be even more likely to visit as they forage for food. Their slightly curved bills help them to rustle through the soil, leaves and twigs in a never-ending hunt for the next meal.
The male is the only one who sings, and sing he does. Numerous sources note that one captive male Carolina wren sang almost 3,000 times in one day. Can you imagine the energy it took to do this? It sounds exhausting just thinking about it!
All that singing is worth the reward though, because once Carolina wrens pair up, they stay together for at least several years.
Come spring, they will have on average three to seven eggs in one clutch and as many as three clutches in a season.
When it comes to nesting, they display their versatility again by re-purposing a mailbox or maybe a garden pot or even boots! In our yard, the dark hidden eaves of the gazebo roof are perfect for raising a family.
It has been my experience that the proximity of their human neighbors during nesting isn’t much of a problem for them, however, if you get too close, you will get a loud, staccato scolding. If you are lucky enough to have a nest near the house, it’s a great opportunity to watch them raise their young. Compared to other birds who are similar opportunists, the Carolina wren seems to be a better housekeeper, too (maybe this is just my imagination but they don’t seem nearly as messy as house finches or robins).
If you want to find Carolina wrens in the wild, they are great at hiding in plain sight in bushes, vines and on the ground. Their warm cinnamon color can easily put them in the category of LBJs, meaning Little Brown Jobs, for novice birders. In birder language this is a catch all for I don’t have a clue what this little brown bird is!
Fortunately, their song is a dead giveaway as is the upright tail typical of wrens when they forage.
The Carolina wren’s Latin name is Thryothorus ludovicianus. This literally translates to “reed jumper of Louisiana.”
Why it isn’t called the Louisiana wren is a question I have yet to answer. Meanwhile, it turns out that it is the state bird of South Carolina since 1948, which makes a lot more sense.