Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the Union, but that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking bird life. Rather, there are more than 400 species of bird in ‘Little Rhody’, 7 of which are wrens.
Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the US after New Jersey, and while urban development has caused a loss of habitat for some wren species, others may have profited from human proximity.
Several species of wren enjoy visiting backyards, especially those that are free of pesticides, and those that leave some weedy corners for them to forage about. Many wrens are also cavity nesters, meaning they’ll relish any opportunity to raise their young in a suitable nestbox.
But just which species of wren can be found in Rhode Island? See how many of the seven you can guess before scrolling down to find out!
7 Wrens in Rhode Island, Starting With the Most Common
- Scientific Name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz (18-22 g)
- Wingspan: 9 in (23 cm)
Carolina wrens are the most common wren of the East but become increasingly scarce as you travel north along the east coast. So, while they’re not as common here as in Virginia, for example, they still make it onto around one in six bird watcher’s reports.
These pretty wrens are adorned with a brown back, white throat, a pale pinkish belly, and long white eyebrows. They also have a repetitive whistling song, which can help you to locate and identify them from a distance.
Carolina wrens don’t migrate and are frequent backyard visitors throughout the year. They can be encouraged to your garden by offering them a birdhouse for breeding and roosting, and also a platform feeder or tube feeder during the winter.
The ever-inquisitive Carolina wren exhibits some surprising behavior. They mate for life, huddle together in birdhouses during the cold winter months to stay warm, and sometimes hunt small animals like lizards!
- Scientific Name: Troglodytes aedon
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (10-12 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)
The house wren is even more common than the Carolina wren during the warmer months in Rhode Island, but their absence during the winter means they’re the second most common wren overall.
House wrens are endearing birds that love to visit backyards. They’re much smaller than the Carolina wren, and more slender than the winter wren, meaning they should be fairly easy to identify here.
The small but courageous house wren will often make its nest in garages, porches, old mailboxes, or even tin cans! Watching them build their nests and raise their young can be great fun, and you can increase the chances of them choosing your garden by installing an appropriate bird box.
House wrens are also renowned for being assertive little birds that won’t shy away from defending their nests against larger birds and predators. This territorial behavior, however, sometimes prevents other species such as bluebirds and Bewick’s wren from using potential nest sites.
- Scientific Name: Cistothorus palustris
- Length: 3.9-5.5 in (10-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)
Unlike Carolina’s wren and the house wren, marsh wrens are not backyard birds but are found almost exclusively in vegetation growing in standing water.
This makes spotting this highly camouflaged species more challenging, and they may be more common than reports suggest. You’ll normally need a good pair of binoculars to observe their secretive lives among the reeds and cattails.
Marsh wrens are migratory birds and are only regularly seen during the breeding season in Rhode Island. The male builds several ‘dummy nests’ to convince female wrens that he’ll be a good partner, and may even destroy the nests of his rivals!
By far the best way to locate these elusive birds is to learn their raucous song that’s sung at dawn and dusk, and sometimes right through the night! Listen out for a rapid-fire series of buzzes and trills that reflect this bird’s tenacious character.
- Scientific Name: Troglodytes hiemalis
- Length: 3.1-4.7 in (8-12 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-12 g)
- Wingspan: 4.7-6.3 in (12-16 cm)
Along with its western cousin, the Pacific wren, the winter wren is the smallest wren in North America (the smallest adults are only about as long as a baseball!).
Winter wrens are highly nomadic and almost never spend summer and winter in the same place. Because Rhode Island lies at the frontier of its summer and winter grounds, you can see them in different places in the state throughout the year.
The favorite habitat of the winter wren is damp forests and shady thickets, especially near streams or anywhere they can find crevices to forage and take shelter.
You can coax them to frequent your backyard by leaving them some weedy corners with brush piles, and a nest box to shelter in for the winter.
Winter wrens have one of the most complex songs of all native songbirds. Listen out for a long series of high-pitched, tinkling warbles and trills, sung with admirable force and gusto!
- Scientific Name: Cistothorus stellaris
- Length: 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm)
- Weight: 0.3oz (7-10 g)
- Wingspan: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
Similar in many ways to marsh wrens, the sedge wren is slightly smaller and less aggressive than its feisty cousin! Sedge wrens spend their winters in the South East and their summers in the Northern Midwest, but are rarely seen in New England these days.
According to the Rhode Island Avian Records Committee, sedge wrens were regarded as ‘fairly common to uncommon’ in 1940 but appeared to decline sharply soon after. They’re now only spotted every few years in the state, with the last reliable sighting in 2014.
The sedge wren isn’t really considered to be a coastal bird, as it tends to inhabit drier territories than marsh wrens. They prefer nesting in the upper reaches of marshlands and damp meadows but may have suffered from the decline of these habitats in New England.
Sedge wrens are secretive and difficult to spot, but if you do see one in Rhode Island, try to get a decent photograph and report it to the Rhode Island Avian Records Committee!
- Scientific Name: Thryomanes bewickii
- Length: 5.1 in (13 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-12 g)
- Wingspan: 7 in (17.8cm)
Bewick’s wren is The West’s answer to the Carolina wren. But while they are the most common wren on the West Coast, they’ve become increasingly rare on the East over the past century and were never common this far north.
The Rhode Island Avian Records Committee includes Bewick’s wren in its list of birds, and the species turns up on a report from October 1969: Ferren, Richard L., “The Birds of Rhode Island.”
Sadly, Bewick’s wrens are almost never seen in New England these days, but with enough support, maybe conservation efforts will one day restore them to their former territories.
- Scientific Name: Salpinctes obsoletus
- Length: 4.9-5.9 in (12.5-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-0.6 oz (15-18 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-9.4 in (22-24 cm)
The classic image of a rock wren is a slender grayish bird with a long bill and long legs, bouncing up and down on top of a rock, singing its rhythmic series of metallic trills.
But rock wrens are really a Western bird and can only be considered accidental when they show up in New England.
Because they do like to drift, we can’t rule out the possibility of seeing a rock wren in Rhode Island. This would create a splash with the local ornithologists, though, so be sure to report any sightings to the Rhode Island Avian Records Committee.
Of the seven wren species that you can spot in Rhode Island, only four of them are commonly seen, and the rest should be considered high-prized sightings! A great way to see more wrens around your home is to install nest boxes and leave some brush piles and weedy corners for them.
For such a small state, there’s a wealth of birdlife to be found on Rhode Island. Be sure to check out our extensive lists of the hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers that can be found in ‘Little Rhody’, here.