Wrens in Wisconsin

7 Wrens in Wisconsin: A Guide to Identification in the Wild

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Wrens are a family of tiny, energetic songbirds that inhabit backyards, parks, forests, and marshes across Wisconsin. With their constantly wagging tails, restless foraging habits, and loud complex songs, wrens add delightful personality to any landscape.

There are 7 species of these little birds that reside in or migrate through Wisconsin each year. 5 are commonplace, while 2 are rare birds in the state. But all share the classic features of the wren family.

So what exactly makes a wren a wren? Let’s cover some background on their identification and natural history in Wisconsin.

Defining Features of Wrens

First, wrens get their common name from the Greek word “troglodyte” meaning “cave-dweller.” This refers to their habit of nesting in enclosed, domed structures.

Physically, wrens are small, plump songbirds measuring just 4 to 6 inches long. They have rather long, slender bills for picking insects and spiders off vegetation. Most species have brown, gray, or rufous plumage in various patterns. Look for upright tails, which they often hold cocked at an angle.

Wrens are known for being acrobatic and almost constantly in motion. They hop along the ground, flutter through bushes, and flit from branch to branch, rarely sitting still. It’s mesmerizing to watch their almost endless energy.

Wrens are also vocal dynamos, belting out remarkably loud songs for their tiny stature. Their voices seem too big for their bodies. Their songs consist of buzzes, trills, gurgles, and whistles in intricate patterns. This makes them easier to detect by ear, even though they often stay protected by brushy undergrowth and thickets.

Add in their curious yet feisty personalities, and you have little birds bursting with life. Wrens animate every habitat they occupy.

Tips for Spotting Wrens in Wisconsin

Wrens spend much of their time hidden in brush piles and thickets. But with some field techniques and patience, birders can learn to find these birds by sight and sound:

  • Head out during peak activity in the early morning or evening when wrens sing and forage actively.
  • Sit quietly in one spot and listen for their loud, complex vocalizations. Each species has a signature song.
  • Invest in binoculars and scan dense bushes where wrens like to lurk out of sight. Look for movement.
  • Note field marks like size, shape, plumage patterns, tail length, eyebrows, and wing bars. Subtle differences help distinguish species from one another.
  • Pay attention to behaviors like foraging style, interactions, and flight patterns. Taking notes can help!
  • Use bird ID apps with wren song samples and location guides for your region.
  • Find even more birds by connecting with birding groups and checking eBird data and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

With practice reading physical and audible clues aided by technology, you’ll get better at detecting and identifying Wisconsin’s wrens over time!

Why Are Wrens So Important to Wisconsin’s Ecosystem?

Beyond being merely cute and entertaining, wrens play vital ecological roles:

  • They control insect populations by consuming vast quantities in gardens, forests, and fields.
  • Their loud territorial songs mark breeding habitats and maintain healthy genetic diversity.
  • Wrens serve as prey for raptors and snakes higher on the food chain.
  • Cavity nesting species like House Wrens help aerate dead trees and disperse seeds.
  • As migratory birds, they transport nutrients between ecosystems in winter and summer ranges.

Understanding how wrens fit into natural systems gives deeper meaning to watching them. These birds may seem small, but they’re mightily important!

In short, wrens offer infinite charm and ecological value to Wisconsin’s landscapes. By taking time to appreciate their energetic antics, unique voices, and diversity, bird enthusiasts often become enchanted with identifying these little dynamos.

With the right approach and know-how, a captivating new pastime awaits in the form of wren watching. You’ll never see backyards, thickets, and marshes the same way again once you become immersed in the fascinating world of Wisconsin’s wrens.

Let’s meet the 7 wrens you might see in the state.

Wrens in Wisconsin All Year

There is only one wren that lives in Wisconsin all year: the non-migratory 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)

With its reddish-brown feathers, white-streaked tail and wings, the Carolina Wren keeps its body upright and tail tipped skyward. For quick identification, watch for the telltale white eyebrow stripe stretching over its eyes toward the rear of its head.

Carolina Wrens are found in the US Southeast and most of the Midwest, but they are not as common in Wisconsin. Still, they do have a presence in the state, especially in the south. They move northward during milder winters.

Thickets, woodlots, suburbs, and parks with dense shrubs suit these birds. They construct nests close to buildings and neighborhoods but keep out of sight in tangled overgrowth and fields. You may spot these chestnut-hued wrens hopping along branches or perched atop backyard fences, singing their loud “teakettle” song.

Interesting facts about the Carolina Wren:

  • As a non-migratory species, they inhabit central and eastern U.S. year-round.
  • Their diet is made up of spiders and insects, but they will sometimes add berries to their diet in the winter.
  • Their bulky domed nests are typically built 3-4 feet high in bushes, saplings, pots, boots, and more. Males often build multiple dummy nests to provide options for their mates.
  • Males aggressively defend their habitat by swooping fast through vegetation, crashing into trees, and emitting loud noises. They are fiercely territorial for their size.

Wrens in Wisconsin in the Summer

Come summer, four seasonal migrants join the resident Carolina Wren in Wisconsin for the breeding season: the House Wren, the Marsh Wren, the Sedge Wren, and the 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 its plain brown hue and paler underside, the House Wren almost always cocks its tail skyward, appearing alert. Faint barring on the wings and back are the only distinctive markings on its body, making their plainness one of the easiest ways to identify them.

Occupying most of North and South America, these wrens spread across the U.S. in summer, inhabiting various wooded habitats, wetlands, farms, and structures. You can find them investigating brush piles, tree cavities, and other nooks.

All summer, House Wrens abound statewide in Wisconsin’s barns, flower pots, rafters, and more. Listen out for their rapid, bubbly songs.

Interesting facts about the House Wren:

  • They consume insects, spiders, and snail shells. The snail shells help with digestion, as they provide grit.
  • Males build flimsy dummy nests lacking an interior cavity, perhaps to entice mates. Once a female chooses him, they will finish the nest together. She will add feathers and animal fur to create a soft lining for when she incubates her eggs.
  • They are opportunistic nesters, using boxes, tree hollows, buildings, pots, and more.

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 (10-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)

The Marsh Wren has a thin white eyebrow, a streaked back, an upright tail, and some brown and black barring on its wings.

These wrens dwell hidden among dense reedy vegetation in North America’s wetlands and marshes, shying from predators. They cling to cattails and reeds with their long toes.

Marsh Wrens nest in Wisconsin’s wetlands, attaching nests to multiple stalks for support. The male builds up to 20 dummy nests beyond his breeding nest! That’s because Marsh Wrens are non-monogamous, and he builds about 6 nests for each of his mated females.

Interesting facts about the Marsh Wren:

  • Each female only uses one nest built by her mate, so that leaves a lot of empty nests in the area. These extra nests likely work to define their territory so that other Marsh Wrens don’t invade.
  • They forage on aquatic insects, spiders, and invertebrates snatched from reeds and grasses.
  • Males serenade with elaborate bubbling songs to woo mates and mark turf. Listen for them near Wisconsin’s wetlands.

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 small Sedge Wren has black, rufous, and brown feathers with yellow hues, plus white chin and brow stripes. A short curved bill and an upright tail are other clues. Their long legs equip them for clutching vegetation as they hunt insects.

These wrens reside among tall sedges in Wisconsin’s wet meadows, prairies, and hayfields. They need lots of vegetation to feel safe; they won’t inhabit a sparse wetland.

During the summer, they live throughout central Canada and the Midwest, including Wisconsin. They migrate into the US’s coastal states for the winter.

Interesting facts about the Sedge Wren:

  • Sedge Wrens can be found feasting on insects, spiders plus some seeds and berries gleaned from grass stems.
  • Males vocally perform complex tunes but stay hidden in the grass, eluding detection. You will likely hear them before you see them.
  • Unfortunately, Sedge Wren populations have declined due to wetland drainage and habitat loss. This means that they are scarce in many of the areas where they live; the destruction of wetlands is harming them.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren
  • Scientific Name: Troglodytes hiemalis
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 3.7-4.3 in (9.5-11 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (7-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.9 in (15 cm)

Meet the cute little Winter Wren! This plump little wren has rich brown plumage marked by barred wings and tail. Tiny and elusive, it sticks to shadows and thickets. Watch for its short upright tail – the signature silhouette of a wren that makes it different than other small birds its size (such as sparrows).

Winter Wrens breed throughout much of Canada and the northern US. Most of Wisconsin falls in its breeding range, although they usually aren’t found along the southern border of the state unless it is the spring or fall and they are migrating through.

Winter Wrens often build their dome-shaped nests along flowing streams and creeks. They will sometimes nest in the roots of fallen trees or in an empty tree cavity. Most wren species nest close to the ground, or just a few feet above it, but Winter Wrens will build their nests up to 23 feet above the ground.

Interesting facts about the Winter Wren:

  • The Winter Wren has a mostly stable population and is considered a species of low concern by conservationists.
  • The male’s song is cascading and bubbly, lasting up to 10 seconds. They are more likely to sing during the spring when they are establishing their new territory. Females and males both call to one another, and their call sounds a bit like a Chipping Sparrow.
  • They are ground foragers who are constantly moving.

Are There Any Wrens in Wisconsin in the Winter?

There are no wrens who come to Wisconsin for the winter. The only wren you’ll see during the winter months in Wisconsin is the year-round Carolina Wren, which we already discussed earlier in this article.

Rare Wren Sightings in Wisconsin

Although birds have fairly predictable migration behaviors and ranges, there are times when a bird will end up somewhere unusual. There are two wrens that are rarely spotted in Wisconsin: Bewick’s Wren and the Rock Wren.

Bewick’s Wren

Bewick’s Wren
  • Scientific Name: Thryomanes bewickii
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 4.7 in (12 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-18 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1 in (18 cm)

With bold white eyebrows and chocolate brown plumage paling to gray underneath, Bewick’s Wrens occupy open country, scrublands, evergreen forests, deserts, and gardens. You may spot them perched on fence posts or, in the west, flitting through chaparral fields.

Mainly western birds across North America, some groups do migrate. Small breeding populations can be found speckled through the Midwest. According to eBird, the Bewick’s Wren is frequently spotted in Wisconsin, even if it is not a predictable breeding season visitor.

Interesting facts about the Bewick’s Wren:

  • Its diet is insects, spiders, and tiny invertebrates plucked from trees and ground, but it will come to feeders for suet and peanut bits.
  • Males are famed for mixing beautiful whistles and trills in energetic songs. It has a large repertoire of songs – ranging from 9 to 22 options.
  • Bewick’s Wrens build elaborate domed nests in diverse sites including cacti, tin cans, boxes, and crevices. They will build their nests up to 30 feet above the ground, including in roofs and rafters.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren
  • Scientific Name: Salpinctes obsoletus
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae
  • Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-17 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.7 in (22 cm)

If you spot a Rock Wren in Wisconsin, it would be an interesting sighting to document with other birders! Rock Wrens are almost exclusively found in the western half of the US unless they have been blown off course by strong headwinds or a storm.

With intricate upper gray barring and speckled pale underside, this wren has a slim bill and slightly cocked tail. Watch for its long legs and upright stance. The first thing you might notice about the Rock Wren is that it is gray instead of brown – this coloring allows it to blend in with its typical western habitat.

These wrens naturally inhabit rocky cliffs, outcrops, canyons, and deserts of western North America. It is rarely seen east of the Mississippi, although many states have rare sightings over the years, including Wisconsin.

Interesting facts about the Rock Wren:

  • The Rock Wren sings warbled melodies marking territory and attracting mates. Their song carries far over open country.
  • They nest in rocky holes, crevices, ledges, and old stone structures. Seldom, they will nest in tree hollows. Their nests are lined with soft grass and feathers.
  • Rock Wrens hop and scurry over boulders, foraging for insects on the rocks.

Other Interesting Birds in Wisconsin

Wild Bird Scoop is here to help you find and identify as many wild birds as you can! That includes wrens, of course, but it also includes many other beautiful and interesting birds in Wisconsin.

Here are some of the guides we’ve written about some of the other kinds of birds you can find in our state:

Whether you live in Wisconsin or are just visiting the state, there are plenty of interesting birds to find – and Wild Bird Scoop is here to help!

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