Wrens in West Virginia

6 Wrens in West Virginia: The Mountain State’s Avian Wonders

Sharing is caring!

Who doesn’t love a cute little wren?

Many wild bird enthusiasts enjoy wrens, even though they are less “exciting” than flashier, more colorful North American birds like hummingbirds, cardinals, orioles, and bluebirds. When they arrive in the spring, people love to spot their little nests and watch them raise their young.

These common wild birds are found in North and South America, including West Virginia.

170 different species of birds live in West Virginia during the breeding season, with many more visiting for the winter or migrating through. Of those, there are 5 kinds of wrens that regularly visit or live in the Mountain State and one more that is a rare visitor.

Learning to spot wrens isn’t very difficult, but they tend to look pretty similar to one another. The challenge is learning to tell them apart.

Before we take a deep dive into the wrens that live in or visit West Virginia, let’s make sure you know the basics about wrens.

What Wrens Have in Common

The most consistent feature from one wren to the next is their shape. They are small, with rounded bodies and an upward-pointing tail. That tail is one of the fastest ways to differentiate between wrens and other small brown birds like sparrows or finches.

Wrens are passerine birds, part of the Troglodytidae family. That word may look familiar — have you heard of “troglodytes”? Troglodyte comes from the Greek word for “cave-dweller.” It’s not that wrens live in caves, but rather, they build nests that are quite cave-like.

Their nests are often either cup-shaped and hidden in tall grasses or rounded ball-shaped nests with an entrance on the side.

Wrens are known for noisy, complicated songs. Their diet consists almost exclusively of insects and spiders, with only the very rare consumption of plant matter. Wrens will also eat vertebrates, like frogs and lizards.

Features To Look for When Spotting Wrens

To identify a wren, follow these steps:

  • Make comparisons between the bird and known species to get a sense of its body size, like is it smaller or larger than a robin, cardinal, or sparrow?
  • Note the colors and patterns on the feathers, including any unique markings on the wings, back, belly, head, chin, tail, and other body parts.
  • Examine the shape and length of the bill. For example, wrens tend to have slender, curved bills while others may have short, pointed bills.
  • Pay attention to the behaviors exhibited like foraging, perching, nesting, etc. These can provide clues to the species.
  • Consider the location where you saw the bird, including the region of West Virginia and the specific habitat like a forest, wetland, backyard, etc.
  • Make note of when you observed the bird, including the time of day and time of year. Migratory patterns can help with ID.
  • Listen for any vocalizations like songs, calls, or alarm sounds. These are often unique to species.

How To Find Wrens in West Virginia

One last thing before we introduce you to the wrens in WV: here’s how to find them!

  • Prepare in advance by researching wrens to become familiar with their appearance, behaviors, preferred habitats, and vocalizations. This knowledge will help you identify them while birdwatching. (And this article is a great place to start!)
  • Choose optimal timing like early morning or late afternoon when wrens are most active. Scout suitable locations with dense vegetation like woodlands, shrublands, and marshes.
  • Practice patience by finding a comfortable observation spot and trying to blend into your surroundings. You will likely need to wait quietly to allow the wrens to acclimate to you.
  • Invest in your vision by purchasing some high-quality binoculars. Get familiar with using them beforehand so you can view wrens clearly from a distance.
  • Listen carefully and pay attention to wrens’ unique songs and calls of wrens. Wrens are often shy, so their vocalizations often reveal their presence before you have a chance to see them.
  • Take note of fascinating behaviors like foraging, territorial defense, and quests for insects and spiders. Note any interesting traits.
  • Use helpful birding resources like field guides and apps like Merlin to aid identification.
  • Keep a journal to record details like date, time, location, and behaviors. Compare observations over time.
  • Practice sustainable, ethical birdwatching by respecting space, avoiding nests, and adhering to ethical birdwatching guidelines.
  • Join local birding clubs or online forums to connect with fellow enthusiasts and expand your knowledge.

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

Wrens in West Virginia All Year Long

West Virginia is home to two year-round residents: the Carolina Wren and the Winter Wren. Let’s learn the basics about each of them: their appearance, habitat, interesting behaviors, and more.

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)

The Carolina Wren is a sexually monomorphic bird, which means both sexes are reddish-brown with some white streaks on the tail and wings. The Carolina Wren’s tail points upward most of the time, which you will notice is the same for all wrens. Their tail posture makes them look attentive to their surroundings.

The easiest way to differentiate the Carolina Wren from other small birds is to look for a long white eyebrow stripe above the eye.

Although males and females look the same, you can tell them apart during the breeding season because of their nesting habits. Watch for the female as she builds the nest, incubates the eggs, and raises the young. Listen and watch for males, who will sing to define their territorial area.

West Virginia is situated comfortably in the middle of the Carolina Wren’s non-migratory geographic range. This makes them easy to find throughout the state, all year long. They are usually found in wooded, shrubby, or suburban areas. They adapt easily to human habitats, so you are likely to see them in parks and backyards.

They are great at hiding in thickets and woods, but they also live in overgrown farmlands and abandoned structures.

Here are some interesting facts about the Carolina Wren:

  • Wrens generally only eat insects and spiders. This goes for the Carolina Wren, too.
  • Their dome-shaped nests are built in trees and shrubs, between 3 and 6 feet above the ground. They will also build their nests in unused propane grills, abandoned shoes, flower pots, and more. They will set up a nest right on your back porch if they want to!
  • Carolina Wrens exhibit strong territorial behaviors, including slamming themselves against hard surfaces like trees to make a loud whooshing and thumping noise. They mostly do this in southern states where there are palmetto trees, but they may do it in West Virginia, too.

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 a tiny, round, plump little wren with a stubby tail that points upwards. Its feathers are brown, but it has some subtle black bars on its wings. This muted appearance means that the Winter Wren is excellent at camouflage, and it protects itself by spending large amounts of time in dense forest undergrowth.

Sometimes, Winter Wrens are described as being shaped like a little bouncy ball.

Winter Wrens thrive in West Virginia’s old-growth forests. They tend to be migratory, but the Eastern edge of West Virginia has year-round Winter Wrens in these forests. In the rest of the state, they are found primarily in the winter.

In the winter, their habitats range from dense forests (old or new growth) to brushy fields and backyard gardens.

Here are some interesting facts about Winter Wrens:

  • Winter Wrens contribute to pest control in West Virginia, as they consume large numbers of insects, including pests like flies and mites. They eat beetles, caterpillars, and millipedes, too. Winter Wrens peck and scratch into the decaying bark of old or fallen trees.
  • Even though the Winter Wren itself is quite small, it builds a nest that fills whatever cavity it has chosen. If the cavity is the size of a football, then the Winter Wren will make a football-sized nest in that cavity!
  • Male Winter Wrens build several potential nests, which their mate chooses from. She will accept the nest she prefers and add to it, finishing it off to her specifications. This is different from other wrens, like the House Wren female, who completely rebuilds the loosely constructed nest that her mate offers.

Wrens in West Virginia in the Summer

In addition to the year-round Carolina Wren and Winter Wren, there is only one additional wren species you will see during the breeding season in West Virginia: the very common House 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)

House Wrens are so plain that their plainness becomes their identifying feature. They are richly colored in brown with some lighter coloration on their chest and belly. The subtle barring on their wings is their only real defining characteristic. Other wrens and all sparrows have more markings than the House Wren.

House Wrens are year-round residents of South America. In North America, they tend to be breeding-season residents of most states, and winter residents of the Southern states and Mexico.

West Virginia offers a hospitable breeding season home for House Wrens, who are great at adapting to human activity and many different habitats. They can live in swamps and forests, mountains and valleys, and suburban neighborhoods and yards.

Although they are primarily cavity dwellers, they will also build their nests in barn rafters, roofs, and outbuildings. Look for them in nest boxes, dense landscaping, and even window shutters. Because they are comfortable up to 10,000 feet above sea level, they are able to live in West Virginia’s highest peaks.

Here are some interesting facts about House Wrens:

  • House Wrens eat snail shells in addition to their normal diet of insects and spiders. The shells provide calcium and grit, which aids digestion.
  • Male House Wrens construct simple “dummy nests” to show potential mates. Females will tear these nests apart and use the materials to build a real nest. This impresses females and may help males protect their territory.
  • House Wrens opportunistically nest in many locations, including birdhouses, tree cavities, buildings, flower pots, and playgrounds. Do not disturb an occupied nest even if it is inconveniently located.

Wrens in West Virginia During the Winter

There are no birds that come to West Virginia specifically for the winter. However, you will see the Carolina Wren and Winter Wren in the wintertime, as they are year-round residents.

Wrens That Migrate Through West Virginia

During the spring and fall, you may see the Marsh Wren or the Sedge Wren in West Virginia. These are the only wrens that come through during migration.

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 quite secretive, often going unnoticed by passers-by. Its feathers are mostly plain brown, but there is some white and black streaking on its back. The distinctive marking on a Marsh Wren is a white throat. It has a short, pointed tail.

Marsh Wrens prefer wetland habitats like cattail marshes and reed beds. While their habitat remains pretty consistent, their range is hard to describe. Just check out this range map for the Marsh Wren to see just how varied their boundaries are!

The Marsh Wren migrates through West Virginia, although the northern edge of the state is home to some breeding Marsh Wrens. Your best chance to see them in the state is in September and October, or throughout the spring as they migrate.

Marsh Wrens are great singers. Males use their song to attract females and defend their territorial ranges. The male will also build several nests from cattails and reeds in the marsh, attaching them to the vegetation that grows above the water line. The female chooses just one of those nests, but the rest are left intact, likely confusing and distracting predators.

Here are some interesting facts about the Marsh Wren:

  • Male Marsh Wrens practice polygamy, mating with multiple female partners in a single breeding season. To attract females, males construct approximately 6 dummy nests per female, occasionally building over 20 nests total.
  • The Marsh Wren diet consists primarily of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates.
  • Despite being powerful fliers, Marsh Wrens living in southern regions tend to stay put year-round rather than migrating. Their northern counterparts typically migrate south to overwinter.

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 has a lot more distinctive markings than the House Wren. It is multi-colored in black, rufous, cream, and brown. Sometimes, the Sedge Wren has a slightly yellow wash to its feathers. The easiest way to ID a Sedge Wren is to look for a couple of telling clues on the face: a white chin and a buff-colored eyebrow stripe. The Sedge Wren’s bill is short and curved. As you might expect, it has an upward-pointing tail.

Sedge Wrens get their name from their nesting habitat of sedges. They also live in prairies, hayfields, meadows, and marshes. They like wetlands, but they don’t nest directly in the deep waters like Marsh Wrens and some sparrows.

Sedge Wrens are migratory visitors to West Virginia. You may see them in the spring or fall, but you won’t see them nesting or spending the winter here. Their breeding range is to the north, and their winter range is to the south.

Here are some interesting facts about Sedge Wrens:

  • Sedge Wrens are unpredictable in their behaviors and migratory patterns. They may breed prolifically in an area one year and then completely abandon it the next. Their movements are nomadic and not well understood.
  • Males build several nests, and the female chooses one to use. The male then abandons the unused nests.
  • Sedge Wrens breed later in the summer than other wrens, building nests as late as July.
  • Making a “pshing” sound can draw Sedge Wrens out of hiding. This suggests the noise either attracts their curiosity or mimics a call.

Rare Visitors to West Virginia

We have one more wren that may, on rare occasions, end up in West Virginia: 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 has subtle brown mottling on its feathers, gray undersides, and a flashy white eyebrow stripe. Although it is somewhat difficult to notice this in the field, you might see that a Bewick’s Wren’s body is longer than other wrens.

Bewick’s Wrens are found in woodlands and shrubby areas. They protect themselves throughout the winter by living in dense vegetation. Even after the breeding season, they live in tree cavities. They are found in urban, rural, and suburban environments, just as long as they can find plenty of vegetation.

These are mostly found in the western half of the state, but they are considered accidental visitors to West Virginia. Ebird lists many sightings throughout the state, especially in the mountains in the southeast.

Here are some interesting facts about Bewick’s Wrens:

  • Bewick’s Wrens are renowned for their extensive vocal repertoire, with males capable of producing between 9 and 22 distinct songs featuring trills, buzzes, and warbles.
  • Nest building is a collaborative effort between male and female Bewick’s Wrens, who work together to construct the nest and raise the young.
  • Unlike some ground-nesting wren species, Bewick’s Wrens build nests high up, sometimes up to 30 feet above ground.
  • Bewick’s Wrens supplement their diet by eating mud and small pebbles to facilitate digestion.

Final Thoughts on Finding and Identifying Wrens in West Virginia

Hopefully, this list has helped you learn more about the wrens that visit West Virginia, and the handful that live here, too.

If you have enjoyed learning about wrens in West Virginia, check out our other Wild Bird Scoop guides for birds in the state, including:

Whether you live in West Virginia or find yourself traveling here for work or vacation, there are always amazing birds to see while you are here!

Sharing is caring!