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Wintering Carolina Wrens

Dear Bird Folks,

Here’s a rather pleasant ‘Blizzard of 05’ story for the records! When I awoke the morning of January 23rd, 2005 I went to look out my front window but couldn’t see a thing. When I opened the front door I realized that the storm door was not latched the night before and there was a 3 inch gap between the snow piled against the outside of the door and the inside door. No matter, I closed the inside door, proceeded to dress for shoveling, and when next I opened the door to go outside, two Carolina wrens flew into my house! They fluttered, darted, and ran around the house (they especially liked being around the wood pile at the fireplace) while I shoveled and contemplated how to get them back outside. They had a warm and dry, 3 hour respite from the storm. A neighbor brought a butterfly net, captured one rather easily and let it go out the slider. The second wasn’t caught until an hour later. Imagine our surprise when we let the second one go and saw the first one waiting just outside the slider. They flew off into the wind and snow together! Do Carolina wrens exhibit a special pair bond all year or is this mating season for them?

Brrr……. -Martha, Brewster


Martha My Dear,

I want to let you in on little secret. Many questions that are submitted to “Ask the Bird Folks” are so long and wordy that I have to edit them. There is only so much space available and I’m not about to let the question interfere with “my time.” Plus, it wouldn’t look good if the questions were more entertaining than the answers. But your question, even though it certainly fits into this wordy category, is such a sweet story that I couldn’t cut a word out of it, especially the part about you running around with a butterfly net.

No, this is not mating season for Carolina Wrens or any other songbird. If a male bird can find a female to mate with in this weather, he must have access to some of the best pick up lines ever written. Your other suggestion, however, was right on, Carolina Wrens have a special pair bond.

Carolina Wrens belong to that select group of birds that stay together year round. People seem to like the notion that they “mate for life,” so let’s just call it that. The wrens that visited you during the storm, have chosen your yard (and living room) as their territory and will remain no matter how many blizzards we get, not like those other cowards. (You know the ones I’m talking about.)

The key to the wren’s survival is choosing a territory that will supply them with both food and shelter throughout the winter. But keeping their territory is not always easy. Unlike other birds that only defend a breeding territory, Carolina Wrens have to be ready to defend their territory every day of the year. That is why they can often be heard singing on the coldest winter’s day.

It sounds anthropomorphic when you suggest that the first bird was waiting just outside the slider for the second bird to be released. In many cases that would be silly, but not in this one. The waiting bird was most likely the female. The female Carolina Wren cannot hold her territory alone. Without her mate, she is in danger of being pushed out into one of those less desirable neighborhoods. (You know the ones I’m talking about.) She was indeed waiting for the other bird, the male. I know that could freak out a few of the independent women out there. (You know the ones I’m talking about.) But in the world of the Carolina Wrens, the female is dependent on the male for her winter survival.

What we can do to help wrens survive the winter is minimal. Those little roosting pockets, made out of various grasses, provide them with shelter. The wrens will also visit our feeders, but not in a major way. They like to pick at suet, sunflower seed without the shells, peanuts and peanut butter. And if crawly maggots don’t creep you out too much, try offering meal worms. The wrens love them. Brush and wood piles offer important refuge spots for wrens. Yards that aren’t too manicured have the best chance of getting them.

This recent storm has brought in a flood of wren related calls and questions. I chose your question Martha because it was the sweetest and because I thought a few people would be amused by the image of you running through your house with a butterfly net. (You know the ones I’m talking about.)