Carolina Wrens in the Garden
Have you ever been in your yard or garden and had a small brown bird scold you? Did it have its tail cocked over its back like an angry cat? If so, it was probably a wren, one of the many birds common to this area. Gardeners and farmers often have a love-hate relationship with birds. Bird species eat a wide variety of foods, some of which include grain crops, many vegetables and fruits. I remember my grandparents trying to prevent jays and crows from pecking their ripening apples and peaches on the trees at the foot of their garden by putting netting over the trees. On the other hand, many of their neighbors put up martin boxes to encourage these insect eating birds to nest on their land.
As you can guess from the word, insectivorous refers to insect eating animals. There are many species of birds that eat mainly insects and almost all birds eat some insects. A common insectivorous bird found in Georgia is the Carolina wren. Carolina wrens eat insects and spiders almost exclusively. Their favorite diet includes caterpillars, bees, beetles, bugs, crickets, flies, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, and moths as well as spiders. According to Farrand (1983), these wrens are large enough (5 ½ - 6” in length) that they have also been known to take small reptiles and amphibians.
I have a small wading pool I keep filled with water in my backyard. I got it for my dogs to use in the summer but the neighborhood birds use it more than my dogs do. As with wildlife in general, a water source can be even more important than a food source in attracting birds, including wrens. Whether it is a small bird bath, a cat’s water bowl on a porch or a drippy faucet, the constant presence of water will attract a wide variety of animals. Water is often in shorter supply than food. This is especially true in urban and suburban areas and during dry periods of the year.
Wrens in general can be identified by their finely barred backs and tails, and their habits of scolding and especially of cocking their tails over their backs. The most common wren in Georgia seems to be the Carolina wren. It is a red-brown (rufous) color with an identifying obvious white eye brow that extends from its beak to well behind the eye. Its breast and belly are buff colored with a lighter throat.
While wren calls have been described as rattles, rasps, buzzes and chatters, the Carolina wren also has a very musical song. The song is 2-3 syllables repeated 3-5 times. Farrand describes it as “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea” or as “wheedle, wheedle, wheedle, wheedle.”
Carolina wrens are found in wooded areas in towns and countryside throughout the eastern U.S. with a range that extends from Maine through the Great Lakes region into the southeastern corner of Nebraska and down through Oklahoma and Texas. Like many wrens, the Carolina wren prefers brushy areas with cover close to the ground. Undergrowth with honeysuckle, greenbrier, and brush piles suit it to a tee. These wrens prefer to nest in underbrush but have been known to build nests in fallen trees as well as in and under buildings. They will also use nest boxes.
Male wrens often build multiple nests to entice females to mate with them. Often the female winds up rejecting them all and building her own, so don’t feel hurt if your nest box offering is also rejected. A Carolina wren nest box is basically the same as other wren boxes but with a larger opening. An entrance of 1 ¼ - 1 ½ inches is suggested. Of course keep it low, within 10 feet of the ground and close to trees. Carolina wrens tend to be sensitive to colder temperatures, so it is also suggested that you face the entrance away from the prevailing wind. With a little shelter, water, and luck, a pair of wrens may take up residence in your garden and help themselves to your insect buffet.
- Melinda Davis
Photo credit: © Maria de Bruyn; https://mybeautifulworldblog.com/
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