Carolina Wrens are small, chunky birds with surprisingly loud voices and a lot of energy.
They’re easily identified by their color pattern — reddish brown on the back, tail, and crown; light tan below; and a prominent white stripe above the eye. They often cock their slender tail upward while flitting from perch to perch.
Males and females look alike, and both sexes vocalize, but males have a repertoire of up to 40 different songs and calls. These include the familiar “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle” refrain, belted out year-round.
Mated pairs usually stay together for more than one breeding season, and possibly for life. Both partners build the dome-shaped nest using grasses, bark, plant stems, feathers, even shed snake skins. Wrens are well known to nest in a variety of cavities — from tree holes and nesting boxes to tin cans, baskets, and flower pots. They’ll even utilize garden boots and the pockets of jackets left hanging in the garage. Pairs produce two or three broods per year.
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Carolina Wrens are non-migratory, and they’re distributed throughout much of the eastern U.S. They’re particularly common in the Southeast, but their range has gradually expanded northward since the late nineteenth century.
Although wrens feed mostly on insects and spiders, they’ll also eat lizards and other small prey, as well as some seeds and fruits. In the northern parts of their range, harsh weather can decimate local populations by reducing access to food supplies.
Here in the Lowcountry, Carolina Wrens thrive in wooded areas and backyards, and they may be frequent visitors to winter bird feeders, feasting on peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds.
Not surprisingly, the species is the state bird of South Carolina, ever since 1948.