Winter Wren

A good bird that we saw last weekend, on the Voyageur Days Bird Walk, was the Winter Wren.

Winter Wren by Alice Hill

Winter Wren by Alice Hill

Fall is really the best time to view this tiny bird. Most times the Winter Wren is heard, but very rarely seen. In the spring they arrive back on their breeding territories while there may still be snow on the ground. Then in summer while raising their young they are very secretive. But once the chicks are out of the nest this can present an opportunity to see young naïve birds as they venture out into the world.

Winter Wren by Alice Hill

Winter Wren by Alice Hill

On our walk last Saturday we could hear the tinkling song of the Winter Wren in the distance, and as we descended deeper into the forest, the Wren got closer. Pretty soon there was some loud chipping right by the trail and there he came out into plain view. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Alice was with me and she got off some good shots with her camera. We watched him as he ran around, mouse-like, beneath the Large-leaf Aster. He jumped up on an old log and sang for us as we watched in wonder.

The Winter Wren is a tiny bird measuring a mere 4 inches from beak to tail with a 5.5 inch wingspan. They weigh in at 9 grams. Compare that to our Ruby-throated Hummingbird which measures 3.75 inches and has a 4.5 inch wingspan. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs 3.2 grams, almost one third that of the Winter Wren.

The Winter Wren is the smallest of the Wrens that occur in North America. They have a short stubby tail that is held upright. They are a uniform brown color that is cryptically patterned to blend in with forest surroundings.

Winter Wrens inhabit dark moist conifer forest and their preference is for old-growth forest. Perhaps because of the tangle of downed wood for this is where they make their nest. Sometimes they will nest in the upturned root system of a toppled tree. This Wren is frequently associated with – and nests and forages near – water, particularly streams, but also bogs, swamps, and lakes.

They are one of the few birds that can be heard singing throughout the summer. A pair will prepare a nest and when the chicks are hatched the female will take off and leave the male Wren to raise the nestlings. She then goes out and finds another male and establishes a second nesting. That is probably why we will hear Winter Wrens singing as they are looking for a new mate during the summer. It’s an interesting way to increase and sustain their populations.

The Wren family, Troglodytidae,  in the New World contains about 80 species, whereas the only Wren species found in Europe is the Winter Wren. While we usually associate this bird with old growth forest in North America, in Europe they are considered a garden bird where they inhabit backyards year round. Actually the species is found throughout the northern hemisphere including Asia and northern Africa. There are at least 32 sub-species of Winter Wren world wide. Because Wrens originated in the New World, an interesting question has been whether Winter Wrens in Eurasia derive from populations of Winter Wren crossing the Bering Straits land bridge many years ago.

The Winter Wren’s scientific name is Troglodytes troglodytes which is derived from a Greek word and means: One who creeps into holes and lives in caverns.  It can also mean hermit-like and solitary.

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