Wrens in Virginia

6 Wrens in Virginia: How to Spot These Fascinating Birds

Sharing is caring!

Wrens are among the songbirds that many bird watchers don’t always take time to identify – they’re little, brown, and often difficult to get a good visual or picture of.

But there’s no better time than the present to get started identifying Virginia’s resident wrens.

There are 88 wren species in the Americas, but the number of them in North America is in the single digits. Here are the species you’re most likely to see in your state.

All measurements are via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

A common singer in the eastern forests of the United States, the Carolina wren is a year-round resident east of the Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast.

Virginia is right in the heart of the Carolina wren’s range, and the species map on eBird is dotted with sightings across the entire state.

Carolina wrens are cavity nesters that eat insects, so they require lots of vegetation and plenty of insects, but they can still occur in residential areas with enough cover. It’s not uncommon to hear them singing through the early morning hours.

The Carolina wren has a reddish tint to its body – more brown on the back and wings and more tan on its underside. They have bold white eyebrow stripes and white coloring on their throats. They have dark barring along their tails and wings.

Although they eat mostly insects, it’s not unusual to get them to show up at bird feeders, especially during colder months when their typical food sources become a little less abundant. They also may use backyard boxes as a nesting location if one is provided.

House Wren

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

The second common breeding wren of Virginia is the house wren, for which the state forms part of the southern border of its range.

Winter house wren sightings are not unusual in certain parts of the state, mostly near the southeastern part of the state around Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach.

House wrens can often be found in residential areas, local parks, and forests, especially during the summer months. Like Carolina wrens, house wrens will use nest boxes, and they’re regular singers:

House wrens have significant regional differences across their range, including a brown-throated subspecies in the Southwest. The house wren occurs all the way to the southern tip of Argentina, with changing songs and appearances throughout North and South America.

Those in Virginia are an unremarkable brown-and-white combination. Their wings and tails are barred with darker coloring and the undersides of their tails, which are short and often propped up vertically, feature white barred with brown.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Winter wrens are uncommon breeders near Virginia’s borders with West Virginia and North Carolina and winter residents in the rest of the state. They breed in select parts of the Appalachian Mountain Range, but other than that, they’re a mostly northern breeder.

Places with multiple summer sightings from eBird users include areas like Shenandoah National Park and Mt. Rogers.

Until 2010, when the American Ornithologists’ Union split the species up, the winter wren included species now considered the Eurasian wren and Pacific wren.

They are small, round wrens that are mostly brown with some white and black markings, as well as barring along their wings, and tail. Their dark markings may increase as you move toward the belly from the chest. Their short, thick tails often stick upward.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Marsh wrens are year-round Virginians near the state’s coasts, where they stick to wetlands. They form their nests amongst the reeds and cattails in areas of dense vegetation.

They’re a tough spot because of their propensity for seclusion, so you may have better luck hearing one:

The bays of Maryland or the Outer Banks of North Carolina receive more reports of sightings by eBird users, and sightings are sporadic throughout the majority of Virginia as migrating birds from further north make their way south in the fall or winter birds head back north in the spring.

Marsh wrens have distinctly unstreaked shoulders on otherwise barred wings. Those in the eastern United States are richer brown than those in the West, where much of the species’ range is.

They have black and white markings near the nape and lighter, unmarked undersides. Their tails are barred in black and brown.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren

The sedge wren was formerly called the short-billed marsh wren to distinguish it from the long-billed marsh wren, now just called the ‘marsh wren.’

Sedge wrens are not breeding residents of Virginia, mostly just traveling through the state on their migrations further south to states like North Carolina and South Carolina. Some, however, will stay for the winter, especially along Virginia’s portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. They inhabit sedge marshes and bogs.

The sedge wren’s signature marks are white streaks along its back. In general, they’re streakier than most sparrows, with dark streaking along their wings and head. They have white throats and unstreaked undersides.

Bewick’s Wren

Bewick’s Wren

Most of the Bewick wren’s range is on the west side of the Mississippi River and it is now considered an accidental species to Virginia, but it wasn’t always that way.

Bewick’s wrens were formerly common types of wren in the eastern United States, but the house wren’s boom may be at the center of their decline.

As house wren populations have increased, it has negatively affected the Bewick’s wren since house wrens are known to destroy eggs from other cavity nesters like the Bewick’s wren, according to All About Birds.

While small pockets of breeding Bewick’s wrens appear along the state’s western border on a range map, no eBird user has recorded a sighting of a Bewick’s wren this century. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, only 20 pairs have been recorded in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia combined since the turn of the century.

Bewick’s wrens have pale undersides and chocolate-brown wings and backs. Their heads are crowned in brown that continues to the face, broken up by a thick white stripe over the eyebrow.

If you think you see one, take a photo. You just might have a rare sighting of one of the last remaining Appalachian Bewick’s wrens.

More To Explore

If you enjoyed this list, Wild Bird Scoop also has lists of Virginia’s resident sparrows, ducks, hummingbirds, owls, hawks, and woodpeckers.

For 30 of Virginia’s most popular birds, from wintering tundra swans to shorebirds like ibises, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Wrens?

While most wrens are small, brown birds with often vertical tails, they typically have some sort of identifying markings, such as the sedge wren’s white striping or marsh wren’s unstreaked shoulders.

Consult this list or a field guide for a rundown on each of the bird’s identifying characteristics.

What Other Birds Look Like Wrens?

Brown creepers are brown with curved bills that look like wrens’, and without a good look through a spotting scope or telephoto lens, even other birds like sparrows or Old World warblers can be tough to judge.

Taking a photo, even with your smartphone, can help you make a decision when you’re back home consulting your bird identification guide.

What Other Wrens Live in North America?

Among the North American wren species not native to Virginia are rock wrens, cactus wrens, canyon wrens, and Pacific wrens.

Sharing is caring!