I love Carolina wrens.The Carolina wren–Thryothorus ludovicianus–is one of our larger wren species in North America, although even so, they’re not very big. One could stand on the palm of your hand and you’d be struck more by the force of its personality than by its size. This is a flitting, bossy, high-energy, cheerful little bird.
If it opened its beak, you’d be really struck by its voice. For having such a tiny little chest, the Carolina wren belts out a teakettle-teakettle-teakettle call at truly shocking volume. When one perches on the deck railing in the early morning and starts yelling, it’ll knock me out of a sound sleep, a feat which generally requires brass bands, nuclear war, or a very determined cat.
If you held our hypothetical wren in your hand and held still long enough, it’d probably try to build a nest on your fingers. Carolina wrens are notorious for nesting in the most haphazard places possible–hats, barbecue grills, boxes left on the porch overnight, flowerpots at commercial nurseries, and even loose pockets of clothing left on a clothesline for a few hours. That the species survives is a testimony to their determination (and presumably their fecundity.)
Me, I love their butts. Their tailfeathers are always upright, and they look so jaunty and cheerful. When I first began birdwatching, Carolina wrens were one of the first birds I learned to identify, mostly because of the big white eye-stripe and the very jaunty butt.
Carolina wrens are one of the many birds that live almost entirely on meat–insects, invertebrates, even very small frogs. You can attract them by doing all the usual good things–planting native plants that draw in insects, avoiding pesticides that will kill off their food sources, and providing water sources. They also love suet feeders, and some wrens will eat seeds, particularly in winter–I’ve had good luck with safflower and millet, but other people report sunflower chips as the best source. (I suspect it depends on how much food is available and how picky the birds can afford to be.)
You can provide a nest box if you really want to, although the wrens are just as likely to ignore it and take up residence on your porch light or in your backyard grill. The nest is an untidy tangle of leaves and small twigs in a rough pouch shape. I once had a wren nest in a shallow box on my potting table–the nest filled the entire box and spilled over the sides, although the fledglings only used a small portion of it.
Far more useful for wren purposes is a roosting pocket. Carolina wrens don’t really believe in migration and populations crash whenever there’s a particularly cold winter in the East. Come spring, young birds will travel a short ways north searching for territories, and the range gradually creeps north again, then there’s another cold winter and the population crashes again. Roosting pockets and roost boxes can provide a warm place for a wren to wait out the worst of the cold snaps, although at the end of the day, it’s really up to the weather.
If you don’t have wrens in the garden, it’s worth trying to attract them. They’re useful little birds, they eat a vast array of pests, they’re one of the more likely birds to nest where you can watch the babies, which is a thrill all its own, and they’re simply a delight to have around.
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