Wrens in South Carolina

5 Wrens in South Carolina: Our Exciting Spotters’ Guide

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Wrens are secretive little brown birds of the mostly New World family Troglodytidae. Two of the most familiar are the house wren, primarily a winter visitor to South Carolina, and the Carolina wren, a year-round resident to which the Carolinas gave their name.

There are five wren species frequently spotted in South Carolina for at least part of the year, starting with the Palmetto State’s state bird.

All measurements are via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, which provides fun facts, range maps, and more information about each of these species for bird watchers of all levels of experience.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

It wouldn’t feel right to begin this list with any other bird than the Carolina wren, South Carolina’s official state bird. It’s one of two states with a wren as its state bird, the other being Arizona with the cactus wren.

The Carolina wren is a common bird across much of the Eastern United States. Its core range extends as far west as eastern Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as far north as New York and Michigan, and as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Listen and look for Carolina wrens in wooded areas including neighborhoods with enough tree cover for these cavity nesters to breed, hide, and feed on insects.

The Carolina wren’s call is described by All About Birds as “teakettle-teakettle.” It’s the male’s common repetitive song that rings out through the United States’ southeastern forests each spring and summer.

While they prefer to hunt for insects among the vegetation, they do sometimes visit bird feeders, and they may elect to inhabit backyard nest boxes.

Both male and female wrens have undersides that are an orangish shade of tan with a white chin and a bold white eyebrow stripe. Their backsides and wings are brown with dark barring on the wings and tail.

House Wren

House Wren
  • Troglodytes aedon
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 5.9 inches

North America’s most widespread wren is the house wren, which breeds from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific. Most of South Carolina is within the bird’s winter range or along its annual migration paths, however.

There are plenty of summer sightings in northwestern South Carolina, however, including near urban areas like Clemson and Greenville.

In the winter months, most sightings are in areas closer to the coast – not necessarily on coastal shores but in areas of fairly dense vegetation closer to the state’s eastern shore.

House wrens are colored fairly unspectacularly, mostly brown with intermixed lighter coloring near the nape and underside, especially on the throat. When seen from the back, they will display notable barring on the tail and wings.

House wrens have significant regional differences, with the Southwest and Dominica’s house wrens a warm brown all over and St. Lucia’s pale-chested wrens, for example.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

If you consult a bird guide from before 2010 and one from today, it may look as though the winter wren has been wiped out in western North America, considerably shrinking its range.

While there may no longer be winter wrens across the West Coast of the United States, the birds are still there – their name just changed. In 2010, the American Ornithologists’ Union split the winter wren into three species, creating the Pacific wren and the Eurasian wren, the Old World’s only wren species.

Winter wrens breed in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States and much of Canada and winter through the Southeastern U.S., though they do also breed in parts of North Carolina and Tennessee’s National Forests.

Congaree National Park and areas nearby are among the top spots for winter South Carolina sightings, according to eBird users.

Winter wrens are round little birds with small bills compared to the Carolina wren. They look similar to house wrens with mostly brown bodies, lighter-colored undersides, and relatively short bills.

Winter wrens have more distinct brown barring along the wings with some light speckles as well. Their tails are not quite as long as those of the house wren.

Winter wrens are more likely to stick to forests and less likely to visit residential areas than the house wren.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Marsh wrens are year-round species of South Carolina’s eastern edge, inhabiting marshy areas near the coast. Their nearly vertical tails set them apart from other brown birds like sparrows and their long, thin bills can help set them apart from sedge wrens, next on our list.

They have warm brown bodies with white and black markings on the upper back and some dark barring on the edges of the wings and tail. Their throats are nearly white and their undersides aren’t as rusty in color as their sides and back.

Marsh wrens have regional variations as well. Birds in the East, including those in South Carolina, are warmer brown than those in the West.

Take a listen, and next time you’re out among the cattails and reeds, you might hear one’s loud song:

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren

Sometimes referred to by its old name – the short-billed marsh wren – you can expect to find sedge wrens in similar places to marsh wrens during the winter months and along their migration paths, but they aren’t year-round South Carolinians.

Northwestern South Carolina first welcomes these energetic birds to the state in the fall as they pass through to areas closer to the coast, then waves goodbye in the spring as they head back to mostly Midwestern breeding grounds.

One interesting note on the sedge wrens is that it’s “one of the most nomadic territorial birds in North America,” according to All About Birds. Where one year you see loads of sedge wrens, you might not see any next year.

Sedge wrens can be told from marsh wrens by their shorter tails, though they still hold them vertically, as well as streaked caps and wings that are covered in black, white, and brown markings.

Marsh wrens, on the other hand, have relatively unmarked shoulders, with most barring toward the ends of the wings.

More to Explore

While there are just five wren species you’re likely to see in South Carolina, the Palmetto State is home to hundreds of different bird species.

Wild Bird Scoop has lists of the state’s most common sparrows, ducks, hummingbirds, owls, hawks, and woodpeckers, as well as a list of some of the state’s most popular bird species you might see right in your backyard.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Carolina Wrens and House Wrens?

Carolina wrens have orangish undersides and warmer brown colors with a bold white eyebrow, while house wrens are duller brown with intermixed white coloring.

House wrens are only winter visitors to much of South Carolina except some areas in the northern half of the state, while Carolina wrens are year-round residents across the state.

Are Pacific Wrens and Winter Wrens the Same?

Pacific and winter wrens were considered the same species until 2010 when the winter wren split into three species: the Eurasian wren, the Pacific wren, and the winter wren.

They are very hard to tell apart visually, but their distinctive songs are different, and their ranges only come into contact in northern British Columbia.

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