Carolina Wren: Loud, Often Hidden, No Longer Rare in Michigan

Bird watchers sometimes refer to a time and location with few noticeable birds as “quiet.” In Eliza Howell Park, January and February are the quiet times of the year. Many species have migrated south and the food supply is limited (and no one has placed bird feeders here). In the first two weeks of January, I have seen only 15 species.

Few species does not mean, however, that they are of little interest. One that I am encountering quite often this month is the Carolina Wren.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Murphy.

Carolina Wren is more easily heard than seen. Its loud song can be heard throughout the year, even in January. I see it most often in the forest understory or at forest edges, as it forages among logs and in brushy thickets. Usually it does not come out in the open even to sing.

It does not “pose” for photos very often. I am not aware of any photos of it taken in the park; the two in this report were taken elsewhere.

I caught a glimpse of one in this thicket today, saw just enough to identify it:

This is the only wren found in Michigan that does not migrate. It has historically been a bird of the southeast and has been gradually expanding north in the last century. (This current range map is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

Carolina Wrens eat insects and spiders primarily. Their spread north has been related to more mild winters, as well, perhaps, to more backyard feeders. They seem attracted to residential neighborhoods where there are trees and brushy shrubs.

They are now a fairly common breeding bird of southeast Michigan, something that was not the reality a few decades ago.

The Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas I was completed in the 1980s and MBBA II was completed two decades later. A comparison demonstrates a significant change. (Yellow means possibly breeding in the specified location; orange means probably breeding there; red means definitely breeding there.)

Those of is who have not grown up aware of this bird are finding that it is definitely worth getting to know. It is richly colored, with a bold white stripe. Females and males look very much alike and they are normally found in pairs all year round, long-time mates. They nest near the ground, usually in some sort of cavity. The common form of their loud song is distinctive and memorable.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Murphy.

It will be weeks yet before the first migratong birds return in March. Meanwhile, the birds of winter include some fascinating species that invite return visits.

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