Carolina wren

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Carolina wren
Carolina Wren-27527.jpg
Recorded in Cape May, New Jersey, US
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Troglodytidae
Genus: Thryothorus (but see text)
Vieillot, 1816[2]
Species: T. ludovicianus
Binomial name
Thryothorus ludovicianus
(Latham, 1790)

T. l. burleighi
T. l. lomitensis
T. l. ludovicianus
T. l. miamensis
T. (l.) albinucha – White-browed wren

Carolina Wren-rangemap.png
Range of T. ludovicianus      Year-round range

The Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) is a common species of wren, resident in the eastern half of the USA, the extreme south of Ontario, Canada, and the extreme northeast of Mexico. Sever winters can severely limit its population in northern regions of its range, but will navigate northward for breeding if weather conditions are favorable. The preference living habitat is either dense coverage or abandoned buildings.

Although it is the only member of the Thryothorus genus, it contains seven subspecies. There are numerous differences in songs, appearance, and living quarters for the subspecies. The bird is generally inconspicuous, and will make an effort to avoid being in the open for extended periods of time. When out in the open, it exudes an investigative nature. The male also takes responsibility in performing calls in order to protect its territory.

The bird is monogamous and once it finds it mate and territory, it will usually reside in that territory for life. These wrens have multiple broods in a breeding season, but can fall victim to parasitism to cowbirds. It also has populations that have been affected with mercury poisoning.

This wren is the state bird of South Carolina.


The Carolina wren was first described as Motacilla troglodytes by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788.[3] It was later renamed Sylvia Ludovicianus by John Latham in 1790.[3] The Thryothorus portion of its scientific name was coined by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816. Its generic name thryothorus is of Greek origin from the combination of thryon (rush, reed) and thouros (derivative of verb throskein to leap up, spring, jump at) which means 'Reed Jumper'; its specific name ludovicianus is a post-classical Latin term for Ludovicus (derivative from Louis XIV) that means of Louisiana that identifies the locality of the specimen collected near New Orleans.[4]

There are seven recognized subspecies for the Carolina wren:[3][5]

T.l. ludovicianus (Latham, 1790) - Southeast Canada (Southern Ontario, irregularly in Eastern and Southern Quebec) and the eastern United States (Southern Wisconsin and New England southward to Texas and northern Florida).

T.l. miamensis Florida Wren (Ridgway, 1875) - Florida from approximately 30 degrees (Gainesville) region southward through the rest of the state.

T.l. nesophilus (Stevenson, 1973) - Dog Island in Northwestern Florida.

T.l. burleighi - Burleigh's Carolina Wren (Lowery, 1940) Offshore islands off of the Mississippi coast: Cat Island, Ship Island (Mississippi), and Horn Island.

T.l. lomitensis - Lomita's Wren (Sennett, 1890) southern Texas to the extreme northeast of Mexico (Tamaulipas).

T.l. berlandieri - Berlandier's Wren (S. F. Baird, 1858) Northeastern Mexico (eastern Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and southwestern Tamaulipas)

T.l. tropicalis - Northeastern Mexico (eastern San Luis Potosi and southern Tamaulipas).

T. ludovicianus is traditionally placed within its own genus as its only representative of North America,[6] but recent DNA work suggests it is closely allied with Thryomanes.[5] A distinct population in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, and in Guatemala (Thryothorus albinucha) is treated as a separate species, either known as Cabot's wren or white-browed wren (Thryothorus albinucha).[3][7]


Carolina wren

Typically 12.5 to 14 cm (4.9 to 5.5 in) with a 29 cm (11 in) wingspan and a weight of about 18 to 23 g (0.63 to 0.81 oz), it is a fairly large wren; among the United States species it is second largest after the cactus wren. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.4 to 6.4 cm (2.1 to 2.5 in), the tail is 4.5 to 5.6 cm (1.8 to 2.2 in), the culmen is 1.4 to 1.8 cm (0.55 to 0.71 in) and the tarsus is 2 to 2.3 cm (0.79 to 0.91 in).[3] Male Sexual dimorphism is prevalent in this species.[8]

There are noted differences among the subspecies. For T.l. ludovicianus, the crown is rich brown that appears more chestnut-colored on its rump and uppertail-coverts. Shoulders and greater coverts are a rich brown, with a series of small white dots on the lesser primary coverts. The secondary coverts are rich brown with a darker brown barring on both webs; the bars on the primaries is on the outerwebs only, but darker and more noticeable. The retrices are brown with 18 to 20 bars that span across its tail. The white supercilious streak borders thinly with a black above and below, and extends above and beyond its shoulders. The ear coverts are speckled gray and grayish-black. Its chin and throat are grey that become buff on chest and its flank and belly, though the latter two are of a warmer color. The underwing coverts sports a grayish buff color. Its iris is reddish-brown, the upper mandible is lemon-colored and paler at the base and lower mandible. The legs are flesh-colored.[3]

As for the other subspecies in contrast to T.l. ludovicianus, T.l. berlandieri is of a slightly smaller build, but possess a larger bill, the upperparts are duller brown with deeper colored underparts, T.l. lomitensis is of a duller color (than either ludovicianus or berlandieri with its underparts either pale or almost white, T.l. miamensis contains darker rusty chestnut upperparts and deeper colored below. T.l. burleighi is duller and sootier with less distinct tail markings, T.l. mesophilus has paler underparts and a whiter supercilium, and T.l. tropicalis is darker than all races, and contains heavier bars than T.l. berlandieri.[3]

The juvenile T.l. ludovicianus is similar in appearance, but generally paler, with buff-tipped wing coverts and a fluffy vent and crissum without bars.[3]

Similar species[edit]

It is easiest to confuse with the Bewick's wren, a fairly close relative,[9] which differs in being smaller but with a longer tail, grayer-brown above and whiter below. The Carolina and white-browed wrens differ from the house wren in being larger, with a decidedly longer bill and hind toe; their culmen has a notch behind the tip.[10]

Habitat and Distribution[edit]

Carolina wren at feeder

This bird is largely a nonmigratory species, and will only resort to extending beyond its range after mild winters. In certain regions, the wren will breed sporadically in places as north as Maine and Quebec after mild winters.[3][11] In certain zones of range, such as most of Iowa, prolonged periods of snow can curtail its potential expansion.[12] There has been occasional vagrants spotted in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.[3][11]

Cactus wrens can adapt to various habitats. Natural habitats will involve many types of woodland include oak hardwoods and mixed oak-pine woodlands, ash and elmwoods, hickory-oak woodlands with a healthy amount of tangled undergrowth. Its preferred habitats are riparian forests, brushy edges, swamps, overgrown farmlands, and suburban yards with abundant thick shrubs and trees, and parks. It has an affinity for dilapidated buildings and unkempt yards in man-made areas. Subspecies burleighi and neophilus will inhabit slash pine and palmettos.[3][13]


Song and Calls[edit]

Carolina wrens sing year round and at any point during the daytime, with the only exceptions during the most harsh weather conditions. However, the males are the ones capable of singing, and utilize a repertoire of at least twenty different phrase patterns. One of these patterns are generally repeated for several minutes, and the male's song can be repeated up to twelve times, though the general amount of songs ranges from three to five times in repetition. While singing, the tails of the bird is pointed downward. Notable vocalizations include the teakettle-teakettle-teakettle and cheery-cheery-cheery.[13]

Different subspecies have variations in songs and calls, such as miamensis has a more rapid song that contains more notes than the races that are further north.[3]

This bird's song can be confused with the Kentucky warbler. The songs pattern are similar, but the quality is different, as the warbler's song is described as richer, with more ringing and a hurried pace.[13]

Occasionally, the wren mimics other species, and in Pennsylvania has led for it to be also known as the 'Mocking Wren'.[3]

Territorial and Predator Defense[edit]

Both sexes are involved in defending the territory. The wrens are capable of using song degradation to determine the proximity of potential intruders. If the song of a bird appears to be degrading, the wren will not respond as if in any amount of danger; if the song is not degrading, it will respond with attacking.[14] Not all birds within its territory are potential enemies. Some species of birds that are territorial neighbors are designated as 'dear-enemies' by the wrens, and the responses to neighbors and intruders in their territories differ by the seasons. In spring, the wrens responded more aggressively toward neighbors, though in the fall, no major discrepancies in responses are shown.[15] Countersinging produced by intruder birds are more likely to be taken as an aggressive threat to male Carolina wrens than by intruders.[16]

Both males and females utilize calls that can be in alarm situations, especially in territorial disputes and encounters with predators. Males are the only sex capable of performing the cheer call, which can sound burred and slurry. In southern regions of its range, the sound males use in alarm disputes is a ringing pink or p'dink sound. Females are the only ones that that can perform the paired dit-dit or chatter sounds. The former can be used in territorial disputes with predators, and with at least northern populations can sing in alternation with the males cheer chant. The chatter is used exclusively with territorial encounters with male song, and the song can either follow or overlap her mate's song.[17]


Cactus wrens generally spend the majority of its time on or near the ground searching for food, or in tangles of vegetation and vines. They also probe bark crevices on lower levels of trees, or pick up leaf-litter in order to search for prey. Their diet mainly consists of invertebrates, such as beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, katydids, spiders, ants, bees, and wasps. Small lizards and tree frogs. Vegetable matter makes up a small percentage of their diets, such as fruit pulp and various seeds. In the northern portion of its range, it frequents bird feeders.[13][3]


Cactus wrens are wary birds, and are more often heard than seen. When on the ground, it moves in jerky hops pillaging through various objects, whether man-made or natural. When stationary, it generally moves in twitched motions, jerking its breast around.[13] It may also be seen sun-bathing or sand-bathing.[18] The various movements involve being capable of crawling like a creeper and hanging upside-down like a nuthatch.[13]

Flights are generally of short duration, rapid, low-leveled, and wavelike. The wings are during flight flapped rapidly, and are frequently used during foraging. It is also capable of flying vertically from the base of a tree to the top in a single wing assisted bound.[3][13]


Carolina Wren nesting in a duck box.

Carolina wrens are both generically and socially monogamous, and will usually mate for life, though there has been one possible instance of polygamy.[3] During the winter season, males are more responsible for guarding the territory. Females may or may not be able to maintain winter territory without a mate.[3]

The nest is generally a dome-shaped structure with a side entrance that can be built with various materials that range from dried vegetation, grass, strips of bark, to non-plant material such as horsehair, string, wool and snake skin. Males are generally responsible for the retrieving of materials while the female remains at the site to construct. Nests are typically located in partial or complete cavities in natural places like trees, or human constructs such as bird-boxes, buildings, tin cans, mailboxes or even in places as odd pockets of hanging jackets in sheds. Nests are generally from 1 to 3 meters from the ground and are rarely higher. They occasionally can be build in sloping locations or even ground level. Multiple broods do occur, and new nests are usually built for each new brood.[3]

Egg laying dates and clutch size vary by region; in Texas the time period is from late February to late August, in Iowa it ranges from late April to June.[12][7] The clutch size is generally size is 3 to 6 eggs, but can reach as high as seven in Texas.[7][3] The appearance of the eggs are white and creamy with white spots that are either brown or reddish-brown, more heavily marked at the blunt end. The incubation period is handled by the female and it lasts from 12-16 days. After the young hatch, they are fed exclusively on invertebrates and the fledgling period in 12-14 days. As many as three broods per breeding season occur with this species.[3]

Cowbird parasitism from brown-headed cowbirds is likely quite frequent with this species, up to 25% of its nests being affected. As a result, Cowbirds may have significant impact on reproductive success of the wrens.[3] In certain habitats where mercury contamination is prevalent in the water sources, Carolina wrens are more likely to have higher concentrations in its body due to its heavy reliance on spiders and their permanent residence in their territories. Nest abandonment and lack of reproductive success were more prevalent with the higher mercury content.[16]

In Culture[edit]

In 1930, the South Carolina Federated Women's club adopted the Carolina wren as the unofficial state bird over the eastern mourning dove and pushed for its official state adoption until 1939, when the South Carolina Legislature named the northern mockingbird as the state bird. In 1948, the legislature repealed their previous decision, and the wren became the official state bird.[19]

In 2000, the Carolina Wren was featured on the back of the South Carolina edition of the 50 State Quarters.[20]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Thryothorus ludovicianus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ David, Normand; & Dubois, Alain (2011). "The original spellings of Thryothorus Vieillot, 1816 (Vertebrata, Aves): a correction". Zootaxa 2918: 68–68. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Brewer, David (2001). Wrens, Dippers, and Thrashers. Yale University Press. pp. 132–4. ISBN 978-0-300-09059-8. 
  4. ^ Sandrock, James (2014). The Scientific Nomenclature of Birds in the Upper Midwest. University of Iowa Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-1609382254. 
  5. ^ a b "Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)". Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Mann, Nigel I.; Barker, F. Keith; Graves, Jeff A.; Dingess-Mann, Kimberly A. & Slater, Peter J.B. (2006). "Molecular data delineate four genera of "Thryothorus" wrens". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40 (3): 750–9. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.04.014. PMID 16750640. 
  7. ^ a b c "Thryothorus ludovicianus". Texas A&M AgriLifeExtension. Texas A&M University. 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Haggerty, Thomas M. (2006). "Sexual size dimorphism and assortative mating in Carolina Wrens". Journey of Field Ornithology 77 (3): 259–65. doi:10.1111/j.1557-9263.2006.00051.x. 
  9. ^ Martínez Gómez, Juan E.; Barber, Bruian R. & Peterson, A. Townsend (2005). "Phylogenetic position and generic placement of the Socorro Wren (Thryomanes sissonii)". The Auk 122: 50. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0050:PPAGPO]2.0.CO;2. 
  10. ^ Brattstrom, Bayard H. & Howell, Thomas R. (1956). "The Birds of the Revilla Gigedo Islands, Mexico". Condor 58 (2): 107–120. doi:10.2307/1364977. 
  11. ^ a b Dunn, John Lloyd; Alderfer, Jonathan K. (2004). National Geographic Illustrated Birds of North America. National Geographic Books. p. 342. ISBN 978-1426205255. 
  12. ^ a b Jackson, Laura Press (1996). The Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas. University of Iowa Press. pp. 266–7. ISBN 978-1426205255. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Dunne, Pete (2006). Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 479. ISBN 978-0-300-09059-8. 
  14. ^ Richards, Douglas G. (1981). "Estimation of the Distance of Singing Conspecifics by the Carolina Wren". The Auk 98: 127–33. 
  15. ^ Hyman, Jeremy (2005). "Seasonal Variation in Response to Neighbors and Strangers by a Territorial Songbird". Ethology 111: 951–61. 
  16. ^ a b Hyman, Jeremy (2003). "Countersinging as a signal of aggression in a territorial songbird". Animal Behaviour 65: 1179–85. doi:10.1006/anbe.2003.2175. 
  17. ^ Elliott, Lang (2004). Know Your Bird Sounds: Songs and calls of yard, garden, and city birds. Stackpole Books. p. 29. ISBN 978-0811729635. 
  18. ^ Hauser, Doris C. (1957). "Some Obversations of Sun-bathing in Birds". The Wilson Bulletin 69 (1): 259–65. 
  19. ^ "South Carolina State Bird - Thryrothorus ludovicianus". NetState. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "The Official South Carolina State Quarter". TheUS50. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 

External links[edit]

  • Sound - Florida Museum of Natural History

Category:Troglodytidae Category:Thryothorus Category:Bird genera Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Category:Monotypic bird genera Category:Animals described in 1790