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The Carolina wren sings through the winter

As cold gray days continue on, and we realize the deafening chorus of spring song birds is months away, it is good to know that the Carolina wren will continue to sing throughout the winter. This tiny bird has a loud voice, stays paired, and defends a territory year-round. Formerly a southern bird, it has expanded its range north into Connecticut.

When you hear this bird sing on some cold morning, you might think it has arrived just to cheer you, but Carolina wrens, like so many other species, have moved into Connecticut because of climate change and the availability of food. Carolina wrens, however, have done exceptionally well for a species associated with the mid-Atlantic states.

Although their population often declines during severe winters, they always rebound. They are a curious bird, and anyone familiar with them can give at least one example of their bright intellect. These attributes have undoubtedly given them the advantage needed to survive here.

For example, I once had a wren take shelter in my garage on cold nights. She lived with me for several weeks. She greeted me in the morning and welcomed me home at night. Sometimes, she saw it fit to "sing" me a note. I got all this attention for simply ignoring a tiny hole in my garage door, where she discovered her escape from the bitter cold winter.

This little wren spent a good part of the daylight in the garage, too. I saw her picking at vacant spider webs in search of food. I know many spiders and insects can be found in that garage during warm weather, so I am sure there were plenty of spider eggs and dormant life forms for her in there that winter.

Friends tell me of similar individual wrens that have ingeniously found ways to keep warm at their homes. I am told of one bird that roosts inside a porch light, heated nicely by the burning bulb. Another person boasts of a Carolina pair that flies under the hood of their car each evening to sleep beside the warm engine. Carolina wrens are sometimes found wintering in Vermont and rarely as far north as Ontario. This is no easy feat for a bird that is largely insectivorous.

That's precisely why I leave suet for them during the cold weather. They will, however, take bits of fruit and some seeds. I have had success with meal worms, chopped noodles, and bread crumbs, too. You can identify them easily by their long curved beak, which is designed for prying and probing but not for cracking large seeds. Their white eye stripe and brown plumage is as unmistakable as their erect tail.

Enticing Carolina wrens to your yard is a sure way to hear them sing. In the winter, their song is short, but in the breeding season, it seems non-stop. There is documentation of a Carolina singing 3,000 times in one day. They have 20 to 40 songs in their repertoire. Males aggressively defend their territories, but unlike many birds, they will visually locate rival intruding males first before they react by singing.

So these wrens are truly unique in other ways besides their mid-winter songs. Yet, out of all the fascinating things these tiny little birds do, it is their cheerful music that I cherish. And when the snow falls like silence upon my neighborhood, I know I’ll be right out there in it, listening for the defiant notes of the Carolina.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester-based birder. His book "Birder on Berry Lane" is now available. You can email him questions at roberts90gtias@yahoo.com.

 

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