Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt
The adaptable and highly vocal Carolina wren is a familiar inhabitant of gardens and woodlands in the Southeast. Weather-related range shifts in the species are well documented. Polytypic. Length 5.5" (14 cm).
Identification Active, inquisitive. In most of range, the most brightly colored wren in its habitat. Adult: one molt a year; sexes similar. Upperparts bright reddish brown; breast and belly warm buffy-orange; throat whitish. White supercilium; long, conspicuous. Juvenile: overall tones duller.
Geographic Variation Six subspecies north of Mexico; 4 others in Mexico and Central America. Populations fairly homogeneous north of about 32° N. More heterogeneous farther south, but field identification to subspecies is difficult.
Similar Species Where ranges overlap, Bewick’s wren may present confusion. Bewick’s has colder colors and longer, white-corned tail. Songs different. Because of variability in song, beware of overlap with unrelated species (e.g., tufted titmouse, Kentucky warbler, northern cardinal).
Voice Loud and frequent. Call: varied. One common note is a hollow, liquid dihlip, less sharp and harsh sounding than the winter wren’s. Another sounds like a stick being run across a wire-mesh fence. Song: rich, repetitious song. Most songs consist of short, repeated phrases; song may start and/or end with single notes—chip mediator mediator mediator meep. Primitive antiphonal singing is sometimes heard: one bird begins with characteristic song; mate finishes with low rattle.
Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: dense vegetation, frequently near human habitation. Migration: largely sedentary. Winter: as breeding. Vagrant: occasionally to 500 miles from area of regular occurrence; apparent vagrants may be better thought of as vanguards in range expansion.
Population Northward range expansion is fairly sustained; westward expansion is erratic. Sudden range contractions follow harsh winters, but expansion resumes eventually. Tolerant of humans; projected beneficiary of global warming.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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