Carolina Wren Makes Herself A Home

A Carolina wren found a tiny hole in the back porch screening, hopped right in and made herself a home.

Who knows what criteria a female wren weighs in selecting such a nesting site?

This one is near the ceiling of the porch’s roof, atop a 2x4, smack in the corner, next to an old bottle of vinegar.   Her nest is a neat little structure, complete with a foyer/patio, walls and decorative sprigs of some dried flower arrayed at the entrance.

Wrens are cavity nesters, easy to lure into bird houses.  This one built her own cavity, lacking a better one in the trees.

I read in Joan Dunning’s Secrets of the Nest that among house wrens (close relatives), the male at first locates a nesting spot and builds a crude nest. He then leads his mate to the spot which she may either accept or reject. If she accepts the site, she immediately sets about dismantling the "lure" nest built by the male and builds her own from scratch, or, on top of the male’s puny attempt.

I saw this male’s first attempt. He selected a clothes pin bag hanging on the clothes line. It looked more like a pile of leaves than a nest, but it must have at least interested his mate in the area, because at about the same time I noticed the clothes pin bag nest, I saw her going through the back porch screen.

As is the case among many birds, the male hangs around outside and sings, and sings, and sings, and sings. This serenade is one thing that attracts humans to wrens. Their songs are amazingly loud and non-stop, full of trills and warbles. Although not usually referred to as a great imposter like the catbird or mocking bird, the Carolina’s songs are full of excellent imitations. I’ve heard this male do a perfect summer tananger, an excellent cardinal and a loud titmouse. The scientific literature reports Carolina wrens imitating bluebirds, meadowlarks and many different warblers.

Some research has shown that the male’s song during the spring photo-period stimulates hormone production in the female. Those hormones stimulate nesting, egg-laying and brooding behaviors required to produce offspring.

I seldom think of hormones when I see her enter the porch and head for her nest. I think "cute" or "amazing" or something else along those lines. On tiptoes, one can look inside it, and she is there now, most of the time. She ducks her tiny head whenever I look, but gleaming little eyes shine inside her hiding spot, betraying her presence.

Of course, she shows herself all the time, because one of her eggs has hatched, and she brings the hatchling fat grub worms and caterpillars for dinner. She has become more tolerant of my presence during this process and poses outside her nest nowadays with wiggly things in her beak.

The Carolina wren is a common bird mainly in the southeastern states, but its known range extends into Michigan, across to Ontario and the New England states. However, this wren is ill-equipped to survive cold weather, meaning they get exterminated in their northernmost range every time a prolonged cold spell hits. It’s not that they freeze, although they may at times, but that they starve without fresh insects to eat, even though they are known to visit bird feeders occasionally and eat both seeds and berries.

It is the largest of the wrens in our part of the country, averaging 5 to 6 inches long with a wingspan of 6.75 to 7.75 inches. It is easily differentiated from the other wrens by its creamy buff colored belly and white eye stripe. The Bewick’s has the white eye stripe but lacks the beautiful buff belly.

Banded Carolina wrens have lived six years. The scientific name is Thryothorus ludovicianus from the Latin "thryos," a reed, and Greek "thouros," for rushing, leaping, springing. This is what a Carolina wren does…it hops around in bushes and brush piles, for example; ludovicianus means "of Louisiana" where the species was first collected in the early days of European occupancy in North America.

Most interesting is their fiesty foraging behavior. No place is beyond a Carolina wren’s curiosity. They enter buildings without fear, scavenge in your rain gutters and make a lot of noise while they’re about it. Wrens, especially Carolina wrens, don’t mind people looking at them. In fact, they seem to like it.

It takes 13 to 14 days for the female to incubate her five or six eggs and another two weeks after hatching before the young fledge, or fly from the nest.

Having one on the back porch is as good as finding some rare treasure. To see that tiny, brown/red body, tail cocked upward, standing there looking me in the eye—there’s no dollar value I can attach to the privilege of being allowed into her secret life, because it’s priceless. To hear her mate rambling on and on outside the door—there is worth in listening to him sing, and you can’t buy that either.

That’s what makes birding the most rewarding of all outdoor activities to me. It’s a secret world they live in, and knowledge of that world can only be partly retrieved from books. "My" Carolina and her babies will be gone in two more weeks, but I’ll remember them for years to come.

10/20/98

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