Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) by Philip English

The State bird of South Carolina, and with its voice being one of the great, most-beloved, harbingers of spring, Thryothorus ludovicianus or Carolina Wren (with the 4-letter alpha-code assignment of CARW) continues on year-round in Indiana. A small, active bird of lovely, brown and cinnamon colors, CARW is easily distinguished (when it is seen – being careful and secretive by nature) from other local wrens by its longer, slightly curved bill, long tail (for a wren at least) and especially by its bold, elongated, white, eyebrow-stripes.

Carolina Wren by Jeff Packer.

This bird’s range (along with its 6 other sub-species) is extensive throughout the Eastern half of the U.S., and according to a recent DNA study, CARW is most closely related to another species of wren that was once abundant here, but (since the 1980s) has not been seen in IN, Thryomanes bewicki, or Bewick’s Wren (BEWR) another likely victim of loss of habitat.

Carolina Wren is a prolifically breeding songbird – and will often raise multiple broods of young throughout the breeding season, and that is a good thing for her species; the sheer number of young birds hatched each year seem to offset the significant losses these birds suffer to the cruel, bitter wintertime, habitat loss, and victimization by the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird, and through cat predation.

Although still considered a stable species of low concern, National Audubon reports concerns of a new threat to CARW as well as other wildlife: under regressive thinking by the current powers that influence the EPA policies, standards for levels of mercury contamination shall again threaten the Carolina Wren (in particular) along with other wildlife.

CARW is an insectivore for the most part, making up about 90% of its diet, and the frightening recent reports of the decline of insects in general speak to potential hard time ahead for the CARW and other insectivores, but in the harshness of winter the bird will indeed come to dine at suet cakes in particular, or even seed feeders, and often appear appreciative of any sort of water offerings made when all else is frozen. Winter can be quite difficult for them, and many are lost to the cruelty of nature.

Carolina Wren by Philip English.

Note: It is strongly suggested that you read the information cited below as part of your learning about the CARW, for the information may be grim news as to their (and our) future.

Survival Haiku*
Through the frozen fog
Her mate sends out notes of hope
Wren has found water!

Although the male and female CARW are identical for all intents and purposes (even though one study has shown that the males tend to be slightly larger than their mates ) if one pays attention to what one sees, and to what is known about their behaviors, we can – at times – differentiate between them, and make educated assumptions of who’s who as far as gender is concerned, for only the female sits on the clutch of eggs (which usually number 3-6) and the male is the provider of nesting materials to her, as well as sustenance while she incubates the eggs. He is the producer of the loud songs.

A pair of CARW have returned to this same potted plant, placed to summer on a sheltered deck for three consecutive years, thus far. Photo by Philip English.

They are cavity nesters, and have been known to nest in nearly anything they find that’s to their liking (old boots or shoes, potted plants, flower pots, gardening equipment, duck boxes, etc.).

Here is Indiana Audubon Society’s Executive Director, Brad Bumgardner, collecting an abandoned nest with non-viable eggs from a potted plant in Wayne County in 2017. Brad added this nest to a collection he maintains for an ongoing educational project with school children.**  Photo by Philip English.

They tend to construct their homes in longish, “lodge” style dwellings, covered in moss, and with a large leaf sometimes placed as if a welcome mat at the opening, which is usually in the side of the nest.

The male CARW’s songs and calls are loud, with the voices of the Northern CARW (whom we are familiar with here in Indiana) being traditionally personified in the English language as: “Teakettle! Teakettle! Teakettle!” (Or, “Germany!”). However, if there is one thing we know about all wrens, it is that nothing is simple with them. A careful listen will often produce variations to our ears, for there are subtle differences in the songs CARW reserves for specific occasions: the choice of a nesting site, the completion of a nest, the acceptance of the nest by the female, the egg clutch having been laid, the hatching of the brood, and (in my personal observation at least) the fledging of the brood. Since the CARW will often have multiple nests built – staggered over the nesting season – the pair (who mate for life) will move from one nest to the next during the season. Only the male sings, but some think the female sometimes adds her own vocalizations in unison with his. The song(s) of CARW appear to vary widely with its locations, and sub-species.

Compare the song of the Carolina Wren with that of our BIRD OF THE MONTH seen January, 2019: Winter Wren (WIWR).

Take a listen!
These recordings are from Cornell University’s great bird information site:

Winter Wren Song

Carolina Wren Song

*Survival Haiku (by Philip Clay English)
**It’s important to note that wild birds’ nests – like their molted feathers – are illegal to possess without a permit.

References for more information:

Haggerty, Thomas M. (2006). “Sexual size dimorphism and assortative mating in Carolina Wrens” (PDF). Journal of Field Ornithology. 77 (3): 259–65. doi:10.1111/j.1557-9263.2006.00051.x.

Header image credit: Jeff Packer


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