Wrens are a family of over 80 birds, from the family Troglodytidae. In that family, the vast majority occupy Central and South America. Ten are breeding residents of North America and half of those breed in at least part of New York.
Have you heard or seen any of them? Let’s take a look and find out!
(All measurements are via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.)
- Troglodytes aedon
- Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 5.9 inches
The most familiar breeding wren in America is the house wren, whose range stretches from coast to coast in the United States.
The Southern U.S. is more likely to be winter territory for house wrens and South America and parts of Central America hold house wrens year-round.
House wrens arrive in New York in late April and remain until late August, during which time they will usually have two broods of five or six, according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
House wrens are common in backyards, parks, and areas of at least scattered tree cover. They nest in cavities, and they can be aggressive toward other birds in their pursuit of nesting dominance.
They are known to destroy the nests of other birds. This survival tactic has helped the house wren become one of North America’s most common birds and led to the downfall of the Bewick’s wren east of the Mississippi River.
Nature can be harsh, as you can see about 45 seconds into this video, in which a house wren destroys a robin’s nest.
With a global population of an estimated 190 million, per Partners in Flight, the house wren has a familiar call.
House wrens are mostly brown with an often upright tail and a curved bill. They have lighter throats and undersides and dark barring on the wings and tail.
- Thryothorus ludovicianus
- Length: 4.7-5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.6-0.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 11.4 inches
Outside of the wilderness of northern New York, where they are quite uncommon, the Carolina wren is a year-round New Yorker. They breed across the eastern United States excluding the most northeastern states.
While many wrens are inconspicuously brown, the Carolina wren has bold patterns, including reddish tan undersides and brown topsides with darker bars.
The key mark of a Carolina wren is a bold white eyebrow, which contrasts sharply against the bird’s rich brown face. They have long, thin bills with a slight downward curve and a white throat.
In addition to their bold patterns, they have a bold song, which you can hear here:
Like house wrens, Carolina wrens are at homes in places like residential yards and parks. Though they primarily eat insects, a suet feeder may attract one as that food source starts to deplete in fall and winter.
- Troglodytes hiemalis
- Length: 3.1-4.7 inches
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 4.7-6.3 inches
The winter wren’s name is less applicable to New York than it is to the southern states, as it spends its breeding months throughout the Empire State, including year-round sightings in southern parts of the state.
Look and listen for winter wrens in forests. Their song, like other wrens, is a varying, up-and-down song:
Winter wrens often hold their tails upright like other wrens, but theirs are stubby little tails. They’re small, round little birds that are brown overall with barring on the wings and tail and some little speckling – lighter on the darker wings and back and darker on the birds’ lighter undersides.
Like the Carolina wren, they have a pale eyebrow stripe, though it’s not as bold as the Carolina’s.
- Cistothorus palustris
- Length: 3.9-5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 5.9 inches
Marsh wrens breed amongst the cattails. While wrens in general aren’t commonly viewed, the marsh wren takes secrecy to the next level.
All About Birds suggests that elevated boardwalks may aid in spotting marsh wrens because it gives you the ability to look down instead of trying to peer through thick marsh grasses and other vegetation.
Also, like other birds, they’re more likely to sing in the early morning hours and just before the sun sets. Listening for one can often be your best clue for where to look.
One of the marsh wren’s top identifiers is an unstreaked shoulder that sticks out against the barring of the tips of the wings. Eastern marsh wrens are rustier brown than those in the west.
A few states south, they’re year-round residents, but New York’s marsh wrens will migrate each fall before arriving again the next spring.
eBird users report fewer sightings in forest areas around north-central and south-central New York, which makes sense considering they reside in open wetlands and marshes.
- Cistothorus stellaris
- Length: 3.9-4.7 inches
- Weight: 0.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 4.7-5.5 inches
Speaking of wrens that live in marshes, the sedge wren is a breeding wren with a fairly limited range in New York, mostly around western New York, especially close to Lake Ontario.
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area in Genesee County are among the top places to spot sedge wrens in New York, according to eBird users. Montezuma Audubon Center in Wayne County got dozens of reports in the summer months of 2023 as well.
Sedge wrens are small birds with upright tails, streaky backs and wings, and lighter, unstreaked undersides.
The sedge wren’s crown is streaked along the wings, shoulder included. In places where marsh wrens and sedge wrens overlap, those two clues should help you tell the difference between the two.
More to Explore
Frequently Asked Questions
Are There Wrens in New York State?
There are five species of breeding wrens in New York State, the house wren, Carolina wren, winter wren, sedge wren, and marsh wren.
What Other Wrens Live in North America?
North America is home to five other wren species not found in New York: the canyon wren, cactus wren, Pacific wren, Bewick’s wren, and rock wren.