Wrens in Vermont

6 Wrens in Vermont: Habits, Habitats, Facts, and Figures

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Wrens are adorable little songbirds that capture the hearts of countless birdwatchers.

Their tiny size and energetic antics endear them to nature lovers, especially here in Vermont. Though not as brightly colored as hummingbirds or orioles, wrens have delightful personalities that make them a joy to observe.

These petite birds flit through backyards across North and South America. Vermont is home to five species that nest in the state and one rare visitor. Of the over 260 bird species documented in Vermont, wrens stand out for their loud songs and calls, their cute appearance, and their active lifestyles.

Identifying the different wren species takes some practice. To the untrained eye, they appear nearly identical. But each type has subtle distinctions in size, song, and markings. Before diving into the specifics, let’s review some wren basics.

What Do Wrens Have in Common?

Wrens share several key physical and behavioral traits. Their plump, round bodies and cocked tails distinguish them from look-alikes like sparrows.

Wrens belong to the Troglodytidae family, whose name derives from the Greek for “cave-dweller.” This refers not to their habitat, but their domed, enclosed nests. They will frequently build their nests in cavities and nest boxes, as well as abandoned household items, grills, rafters, shutters, and more.

These nests are architectural marvels, either cup-shaped amongst tall grasses or round with a side entrance.

Additionally, wrens are vocal virtuosos, belting out complex songs beyond what one would expect from a tiny bird. You will often hear a wren before you see one.

Their diet is almost strictly spiders and insects, with the occasional small vertebrate like a frog or lizard. Wrens are devoted insectivores, rarely dabbling in seeds or other plant material.

Features To Look for When Spotting Wrens

Here are some ways to identify wrens out in the wild! First, you have to find them. Then, you have to identify them. These strategies will help!

  • Take stock of the bird’s size, contrasting it with familiar species like robins, cardinals, and sparrows. You will notice that wrens are usually smaller than these birds. They are similar in size to sparrows, but their tails tend to be shorter and upward-pointed.
  • Try to get a good look at the bird’s plumage, noting any distinctive markings on the wings, back, belly, head, chin, tail, and other areas. If you can, get a picture!
  • Examine the shape and proportions of the bill. Wrens tend to have thin, curved bills.
  • Observe behaviors like foraging, perching, nesting, etc. Habits can help you identify specific species.
  • Consider the habitat where you saw the bird, such as a forest, wetland, backyard, etc. Some wrens are very predictable in their habitat preferences.
  • Note when you saw the bird: time of day and time of year. You can keep track of this information and compare notes, even year after year.
  • Listen for vocalizations including songs, calls, and alarms. Sounds are often species-specific.

How To Find Wrens in Vermont

Now that you know what to look for, here are some general birding tips that will help you actually find these birds, many of which are pretty shy.

  • Prepare in advance by researching wrens. This article will help! The more you know about their appearance, behaviors, habitats, and songs, the easier it will be to identify them in the field.
  • Invest in your vision with a quality pair of binoculars. Practice using them beforehand for clear long-distance viewing. You don’t need the most expensive pair of binoculars on the market, especially if you are just getting started, but you probably want something better than a souvenir shop-style set.
  • Choose optimal timing like early or late day when wrens are active. You may be able to spot wrens at any time of day, but these are the most optimal times.
  • Listen carefully for unique wren songs and calls, which often reveal a wren’s presence before seen. Keep the Merlin app handy to identify bird sounds!
  • Get ready to be patient! Find a comfortable observation spot and try to blend into your surroundings. Wait quietly and allow wrens to acclimate to your presence.
  • Use helpful birding resources like field guides and ID apps to aid identification.
  • Keep a journal to record details like date, time, location, and observed behaviors. Compare observations over time. Year-to-year observations can help you pinpoint the right time to visit.
  • Practice ethical birdwatching by respecting birds’ space, avoiding their nests, and adhering to guidelines.
  • Join birding clubs/forums to connect with fellow enthusiasts and expand your knowledge.

And now let’s get to know the wrens of Vermont!

Wrens in Vermont All Year Long

There is only one kind of wren that lives in Vermont all year: the Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren
  • Scientific Name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz (18-22 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.4 in (29 cm)

Both male and female Carolina Wrens sport the species’ signature warm reddish-brown plumage, which is coupled with white-streaked wings and tail. Their upward-angled tail reveals their constant vigilance.

The most distinguishing feature of these wrens is a pronounced white eyebrow stripe over each eye.

While the sexes appear identical, careful observation reveals behavioral differences during the breeding season. Females busily construct the nest, incubate eggs, and raise hatchlings, while males vocally defend territory with persistent singing.

In general, Carolina Wrens stay south of Vermont. However, according to eBird, there are consistent year-round sightings of these wrens in Vermont. Look for them in woodlands, shrublands, parks, and backyards statewide. Though shy, they thrive near humans.

Carolina Wrens conceal themselves artfully in thickets and forests. Overgrown farmlands and abandoned buildings also provide habitat for these adaptable birds. Their loud calls often give away their presence before they come into view.

Here are some interesting facts about the Carolina Wren:

  • Carolina Wrens are strict insectivores, consuming only spiders and insects to meet their nutritional needs.
  • They construct domed nests 3-6 feet up in trees, shrubs, or odd nooks like empty grills, pots, and shoes! These resourceful birds will even nest on back porches, right where people come and go. When approached, they will often fly away quickly and return when things have calmed down.
  • Carolina Wrens fiercely defend their territory, dramatically throwing themselves against trees or other hard surfaces to create dramatic whooshing and thumping sounds. They exhibit this behavior mainly in southern palmetto groves, but may also do so against trees in Vermont.

Wrens in Vermont for the Summer

The rest of the wrens that visit Vermont are here during the summer. These are the House Wren, Marsh Wren, Sedge Wren, and Winter Wren.

House Wren

House Wren
  • Scientific Name: Troglodytes aedon
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (10-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)

With their uniformly brown plumage and subtle white barring on the wings, House Wrens appear almost plain. They lack many distinctive markings, which means that their plain appearance is what makes them recognizable.

House Wrens live year-round in South America but migrate seasonally in North America. They breed across most of the continent and then retreat to southern states and Mexico for winter.

Vermont’s forests, valleys, swamps, suburbs, and yards all provide summer homes for adaptable House Wrens. These clever, adaptable birds thrive near humans across diverse habitats.

Though best known as cavity nesters, House Wrens also build nests in rafters, roofs, shutters, and boxes. Their tolerance for high elevations allows them to inhabit even Virginia’s tallest mountain peaks–up to 10,000 feet.

Here are some interesting facts about House Wrens:

  • House Wrens supplement their usual insectivore diet with snail shells, which provide calcium and grit to aid digestion.
  • To attract mates, male House Wrens build rudimentary “dummy nests” for females to choose from. Impressed females disassemble a chosen nest to construct sturdier, real ones. The ritual also establishes the male’s territory.
  • House Wrens nest opportunistically in birdhouses, tree hollows, buildings, pots, playgrounds, and more. Never disturb an active nest, even if situated inconveniently. Birds’ nests are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren
  • Scientific Name: Cistothorus palustris
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (9-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.9-7.1 in (15-18 cm)

The Marsh Wren is a secretive little bird, often unnoticed by people near it. It has plain brown feathers with some black and white streaks on its back. Look for its distinctive white throat. Like other wrens, it has a short, pointed tail.

Their chosen habitat is conveyed by their name: they live almost exclusively in wetlands and marshes. They build nests in cattail marshes and reed beds. Well, males actually build several nests, and then each female chooses one nest to make her own. The rest of the nests are left in place, probably to confuse other birds and create a stronger territorial defense.

Their range map reveals just how scattered their territorial borders can be. They are all over the place, sometimes staying in one place and sometimes migrating.

In Vermont, Marsh Wrens are only found in the south of the state.

Here are some interesting facts about the Marsh Wren:

  • Male Marsh Wrens are polygamous. They mate with multiple females each year, and that means building multiple dummy nests per female. Because he may build up to 6 nests per female, he will sometimes end up building more than 20 nests each breeding season!
  • Marsh Wrens eat insects, spiders, and other invertebrates, including aquatic insects.
  • Marsh Wrens that dwell in northern regions tend to migrate south, but those in the south often stay put all year.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren
  • Scientific Name: Cistothorus platensis
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.3 oz (7-10 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)

The Sedge Wren is more dramatically marked than other wrens, especially the House Wren. Its body is mostly light brown, but it has black, rufous, and cream markings. Its wings have the most contrast, and it also has a white chin and a buffy eyebrow stripe. Sedge Wrens have short, curved bills and upward-pointing tails.

Sedge Wrens are named from the sedges where they build their nests. They also nest and live in hayfields, meadows, prairies, and marshes. Although they will choose a wetland habitat, they don’t nest directly in the aquatic grasses like Marsh Wrens and sparrows.

Sedge Wrens are only found in the northwest corner of Vermont. Most of their breeding range is to the west of New England, and their winter range spans the US Southeast.

Here are some interesting facts about Sedge Wrens:

  • Their migratory behaviors and patterns are somewhat unpredictable. One year, they will visit an area and have great breeding success — and then abandon it the next year! Sedge Wrens are considered nomadic, and more study is needed to understand their behaviors.
  • Like other wrens, males build several nests, and the female chooses her favorite. The extra nests are abandoned.
  • The Sedge Wren breeding season begins later than other wrens. They may not build their nests until July.
  • You may be about to make a “pshing” sound to coax Sedge Wrens out of hiding.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren
  • Scientific Name: Troglodytes hiemalis
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • 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)

The Winter Wren is particularly small. It is plump, round, and sometimes described as a bouncy ball.

The Winter Wren has brown feathers with some subtle black barring on the wings. Winter Wrens, thanks to this simple coloring, are very good at camouflage. They spend a lot of time hiding in the dense forest undergrowth.

Winter Wrens are known for inhabiting old-growth forests, of which Vermont has plenty. Although they will inhabit younger forests, old-growth is certainly their preference! They are typically migratory, and the Winter Wrens in Vermont move south for the winter.

However, there is a large area that stretches from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and then down into the Appalachian Mountain Range where they are year-round residents. It’s possible that some of these non-migratory Winter Wrens could spend all year along Vermont’s southern border.

In the winter, they are found not just in forests, but also in brushy fields and backyards.

Here are some interesting facts about Winter Wrens:

  • Winter Wrens aid pest control in the areas where they live by voraciously consuming insects like flies, beetles, caterpillars, and millipedes. They peck and probe in the decaying bark of dead and fallen trees for these protein-rich insects.
  • Despite their small size, Winter Wrens construct impressively large nests, filling the entire cavity they occupy. Given a football-sized hollow, they will build a football-sized nest.
  • Male Winter Wrens construct several nest options for their mate to select from. Unlike other wrens, the female then adds finishing touches to the chosen nest rather than rebuilding it entirely.

Wrens in Vermont in the Winter & Migration

There are no wrens who come to Vermont for the winter. Similarly, Vermont is not on the migratory path of any wrens, either. This means that your only opportunities to see wrens in Vermont are during the summer. You might get lucky and see the Carolina Wren during the winter, but because Vermont is technically outside of its normal range, your chances are low.

Rare Visitors to Vermont

On rare occasions, there is one more wren who might show up in Vermont, although its arrival is always accidental. Let’s talk about the Bewick’s Wren!

Bewick’s Wren

Bewick’s Wren
  • Scientific Name: Thryomanes bewickii
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 5.1 in (13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 7 in (18 cm)

The Bewick’s Wren is brown with some light mottling on its feathers. It is gray underneath and has a noticeable white eyebrow stripe. Its body is longer than other wrens, but this can be difficult to notice in the field when there is not another wren nearby for comparison!

Bewick’s Wrens live in woodlands and shrubby areas, but almost exclusively in the western half of the state. How do they end up in Vermont? Accidentally! Bewick’s Wrens are known for accidentally ending up somewhere other than their normal migration ranges. Perhaps this is because they get blown off course by storms and strong headwinds.

The Bewick’s Wren lives among dense vegetation. They inhabit tree cavities, even after the breeding season ends. As long as there is plenty of vegetation, they will make themselves at home in rural, urban, and suburban environments.

Here are some interesting facts about Bewick’s Wrens:

  • Renowned vocalists, male Bewick’s Wrens boast a repertoire of 9-22 elaborate songs featuring trills, buzzes, and warbles.
  • Both male and female Bewick’s Wrens construct their nest together.
  • Bucking the ground-nesting tendency of some wrens, Bewick’s loftily situate nests up to 30 feet high in trees.
  • To aid digestion, Bewick’s Wrens supplement their diet with mud and small pebbles.

Our Final Say on Finding Wrens in Vermont

I hope this overview has helped you learn more about the wrens gracing Vermont with their presence. From year-round residents to seasonal migrants, these charismatic songbirds brighten the Green Mountain State.

Whether you live in Vermont or find yourself traveling here for work or vacation you can expect to see some incredible birds while you are here — especially if you know where to look!

If you enjoyed discovering Vermont’s wrens, explore the other Wild Bird Scoop guides covering additional species in the state:

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