Winter Wrens. The Other Ones.
Although I’ve seen fewer than half of the world’s species, I’ve never met a wren I didn’t like. Whether skulky or conspicuous, they always seem full of personality.
For instance, nothing brightens up a gloomy Michigan winter day quite like a sassy Carolina Wren. Their rich, chestnut coloration seems especially warm against the leaden landscape. When Walter Barrows wrote about Michigan’s birds in 1912, this was considered the least common wren in the state – at a time when Bewick’s Wrens were still found here. Carolina Wrens have a tough time in our climate, and it’s thought that warmer winter temperatures have facilitated a northward range expansion over the past century. By the 1970s, Carolina Wrens were locally common well into northern Michigan. Still, they are susceptible to population reductions in severe winters.
With the onset of very cold weather, the neighborhood wrens (inevitably a pair, sometimes a whole family) show up at the backyard feeding station. The woodpeckers and nuthatches provide stiff competition for the suet, so I will often put live mealworms on my office windowsill for the wrens. If I’m not prompt in my dispensing of these treats, impatient wrens scold me, bobbing up and down in fussy annoyance on my sill.
One especially harsh winter, a pair of Carolina Wrens, which my husband and I had banded, spent many days at the windowsill diner. The following winter, I wasn’t too surprised to sit down at my desk one morning and find two wrens expectantly peering in the window. What was surprising was that they were not the same birds as the previous year – no bands! It makes me wonder how the Carolina Wren grapevine works.
Out and about in the winter woods, I often encounter Carolina Wrens at squirrel nests, both occupied and abandoned. I think they take shelter in the dense leaves, but I frequently also see them just rummaging around, energetically dismantling the nests, searching for whatever insects have also taken refuge in the wads of vegetation. This activity is usually accompanied by an assortment of babbling calls and mutterings. Best of all, even in the dead of winter, Carolina Wrens will burst into full song. It may be cold, and the sky might be gray, but that loud serenade spreads warmth and brightness through a whole dreary woodlot. Who doesn’t love that?