Tag Archives: Carolina Wren

Winter wren one of the season’s low-profile visitors

WinterWren

Photo by Jean Potter
What the winter wren lacks in size, it makes up for with its voice. A boisterous and exuberant singer during the spring nesting season,  winter wrens are also quick to scold intruders into their winter territories.

 

Of late, every time I step outside my front door I’ve incurred the ire of a winter wren that’s taken up residency in my yard. This wren is a tiny bird among a family of birds known for small size, but it makes its presence known in unmistakable terms.

For starters, the winter wren is a noisy bird. The one living at my home arrived in late November and immediately claimed a niche to call its own. Any intrusion is met with a scolding chatter as the wren scurries low to the ground to drop out of view. In fact, the winter wren’s a very terrestrial bird. Observers are just as likely to see one of these wrens run across the ground as they are to see it take flight. I’m hopeful he will remain as winter’s grip tightens for the next couple of months.

The website All About Birds, managed by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, offers advice on making a wren-friendly yard. “Landscaping with native plants is a good way to provide habitat for Winter Wrens,” according to the website. Other steps to take could extend to creating brush piles and ensuring some sections of the yard offers dense vegetation. The website also notes that this wren is often found making its home near streams.

In the summer, the winter wren often nests atop some of the high-elevation mountains in the region, especially ones with abundant fir and spruce trees. Otherwise, it’s mostly a winter visitor in the region. Other wrens common to the region include the Carolina wren and the house wren. In suitable habitats, especially during fall and spring migration, two other wrens — marsh wren and sedge wren — are observed occasionally in the region. Other wrens native to the United States include the rock wren, canyon wren, cactus wren, Pacific wren and Bewick’s wren.

The world’s 88 species of wrens are, for the most part, the quintessential “little brown birds,” but that hasn’t kept them from acquiring some interesting and descriptive common names. Some examples include the tooth-billed wren, flutist wren, riverside wren, whiskered wren, happy wren, musician wren, timberline wren, speckle-breasted wren, white-breasted wood wren and giant wren. The last species on the list resides in Mexico and is indeed a “giant” among a family of tiny birds, reaching a length of almost nine inches and weighing all of 1.8 ounces.

For the most part, wrens are birds of the New World. In fact, only the Eurasian wren represents the family in Europe, Asia and Africa. Experts recently split the winter wren into several different species, including the Pacific wren of the west coast of North America and the Eurasian wren of Europe, Asia and Africa.WinterWren_edited-1

Just as the winter wren thinks nothing of acting like a mouse when scurrying through leaf litter and over fallen logs in search of insect prey, this bird doesn’t hesitate to imitate mice by poking into shadowy holes in the ground or exploring the dark crevices of fallen logs. When winter temperatures drop sharply, many of these birds may cram themselves into a roosting hole to benefit from the communal heat from so many tiny feathered bodies in such close proximity. Winter wrens eat mostly insects and spiders, but in winter these birds will also eat some seeds and berries. Winter wrens rarely visit feeders, but a suet cake often attracts birds with similar dietary preferences, including kinglets and chickadees. A larger relative, the Carolina wren, is a common visitor to feeders.

In English and German lore, the winter wren was known as the “king of the birds.” Different tales provide varying explanations for how such a small bird earned such an inflated title. Ritual hunts were enacted in some European locations. These hunts, known as “wren hunts,” were conducted by “wren boys” who would parade through town on their quests. Wren Day fell on Dec. 26, which coincided with the holiday St. Stephen’s Day. Some myths blame the noisy bird for betraying the hiding place of Stephen, who was delivered up as a Christian martyr to his enemies due to the bird’s treachery. In some European cultures, various superstitions sprang up about wrens. For instance, in Scotland it is considered extremely unlucky to kill a wren.

Personally, I feel lucky to have the tiny winter wren spending time around my home and can guarantee no “wren hunts” will be staged here. At a time of year when feathered friends can be scarce, a winter wren is a welcome visitor.

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The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society produces an annual calendar featuring some exceptional bird photography from its members. This year’s calendar features full-color photographs of some colorful and engaging birds. The club sells the calendars for $15 each. All proceeds are used to support birding opportunities and bird-related causes. For instance, the club pays for bird seed to stock the feeders at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The club also regularly supports causes that benefit birds.HerndonCalendar2018(Cover)

The calendar also features an informative calendar grid with highlights for major holidays, as well as important bird-related dates. The calendar’s pages feature more than 80 full-color photographs of area birds, including common favorites, as well as a few more exotic birds. The front cover features a dazzling photograph of a red-headed woodpecker. The photo was taken by Debi Campbell, a resident of Bluff City, Tennessee, and current president of the Herndon chapter. If you’re interested in obtaining a calendar, contact ahoodedwarbler@aol.com by email. Calendars will also be available for purchase by cash or check only at the offices of the Bristol Herald Courier located at 320 Bob Morrison Blvd. in Bristol, Virginia.

If you’re interested in obtaining a calendar, contact ahoodedwarbler@aol.com by email. Calendars will also be available for purchase by cash or check only at the offices of the Bristol Herald Courier located at 320 Bob Morrison Blvd. in Bristol, Virginia.

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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

 

Wrens provide example of resilient spirit of birds

There’s nothing like a wren on a cold, blustery winter’s day to teach a quick lesson in the resilient spirit shared by all our fine feathered friends.

WinterWren

Photo by Jean Potter                                                                  The Winter Wren often skulks near the ground in a manner more in a keeping with a small rodent rather than a bird.

Although not particularly suited to cold temperatures, wrens don’t seem bothered too badly when the mercury sinks in the thermometer. These tiny bundles of feathers move like hyper-active dynamos as they explore tangles of vines or the nooks and crannies of a dark garage as part of their almost constant foraging for food.

Cactus_wren

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service      The Cactus Wren is a specialist of arid habitats in the American Southwest.

At first glance, many people might be tempted to lump wrens together with the sparrows, or “little brown birds.” There are some key differences and, as with sparrows, there are several different species of wrens. Wrens are (almost) an exclusively New World family of birds with the single exception of the bird that Americans refer to as the winter wren. Across Europe, the same bird is known simply as “wren” and is the only member of the family to occur outside of the New World.

audubon-ix-songsters-and-mimics-house-wren

John James Audubon painted House Wrens nesting in an old hat. These small wrens are cavity-nesting birds that choose some surprising nesting locations.

Known by the scientific name of Troglodytes hiemalis, roughly translated as “wintry cave-dweller,” the winter wren is a tiny North American bird and a member of the mainly New World wren family Troglodytidae. The “cave-dwelling” description comes from this bird’s habit of skulking near the ground where it explores nooks, crannies and crevices in search of food.

In our region, the tiny winter wren is most likely to be encountered during the winter months although the species is a nesting bird on some of our higher mountains. Those intending to spend the winter at lower elevations in the region usually arrive in October and depart in early spring.

HouseWren

Photo by Jean Potter                                      House Wrens will defend nesting locations from other birds, at times even destroying the eggs or nestlings of other birds.

About the time the winter wren departs, however, a related bird — the house wren — arrives in the region in time for the nesting season. House wrens are native birds, but they often fail to win favor because of their habits of damaging the nests of other cavity-nesting birds such as Eastern bluebirds and Carolina chickadees.

“To a house wren, almost any other nesting bird in its territory threatens competition,” wrote John Eastman in his book, “Birds of Forest, Yard and Thicket.”

Eastman, a wildlife biologist and naturalist, outlined in his chapter on the house wren the territorial nature of the bird. Not only will house wrens puncture the eggs of other birds, they will also kill young birds that are still confined to the nest. Once a pair of house wrens adopts a nesting site, they may remain loyal to it for many years. According to Eastman, these tiny birds display a powerful fidelity to nesting locations from previous seasons.

Marsh_wren

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service   A Marsh Wren delivers insects for hungry young in a nest built in a wetland area.

The male house wren will also build several “dummy” nests in his territory, but these nests must be approved by the female. Once she makes her selection, she will line the nest with softer materials and then lay her six to eight eggs.

Other wrens in the United States include Bewick’s wren, rock wren, cactus wren, marsh wren and sedge wren. Several of these wrens are more specialized than the wrens found locally. The marsh and sedge wrens are fond of wetland habitats, while the rock and cactus wrens of the western United States make their home in dry, arid environments.

Wren-vocal

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                The Carolina Wren is a very vocal bird, scolding and singing quite persistently. Many people have described the song as “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.”

For most residents of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, the most common wren is the Carolina wren. I’ve had good luck attracting Carolina wrens to my feeders by offering fare such as suet and shelled, unsalted peanuts. This wren will also feed on sunflower seeds if other birds have completed the task of hulling the kernel from inside the shell.

One of my earliest introductions to a nesting bird took place many years ago when I was a boy. A small brown bird had claimed a cloth bag hanging on a hook on the back porch at the home of my grandparents. My grandmother used the bag to hold her clothes-pins. My grandmother had to make some adjustments to her laundry routine while the bird raised a family of young.

CaroWren-SuetFEED

Photo by Bryan Stevens                           Carolina Wrens will visit feeders for a meal of suet, peanuts or other fare.

I now realize the bird was most likely a Carolina wren. These birds are known to choose some unusual nesting locations, including mailboxes, overturned flower pots and even old boots. A friend of mine shared a story and photos of a Carolina wren that built a nest in her plastic Halloween pumpkin inside a storage shed.

This wren was once considered an almost exclusive southern species, but it has been steadily expanding its range northward for more than a century. The Carolina wren has served as the official state bird of South Carolina since 1948. The wren took the place of the former state bird, the Northern mockingbird. The same state act that elevated the Carolina wren to its official status also made it a misdemeanor to intentionally kill a Carolina wren (or mockingbird) that is punishable with a $100 fine or a 30-day sentence of imprisonment.

The Carolina wren is a handsome bird with a two-tone plumage of warm brown upperparts and buffy underparts. The sexes are identical in appearance, which includes such traits as a visible white eyebrow and a curved bill. Even more than appearance, the song of this wren helps distinguish it from other wrens. I’ve often heard the song translated as “Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle.”

CaroWren

Photo by Jean Potter                                                                                                                                A Carolina Wren creeps along a picket fence. This wren is a common bird in many gardens and yards.