Backyard Birding: Carolina Wren Babies and Nests
Carolina Wrens: The Farmer's Friend
Carolina Wrens will build a nest in just about any cavity, natural or man-made. They are perky, little cinnamon-brown birds with a loud voice and eat thousands of insects each year. They can be found in the north, but do better where winters are not so cold.
Pairs mate for life and will usually remain together all yearlong. They can raise as many as four broods a year here in Louisiana. When they are raising young, more insects are devoured. Unlike their cousin, the House Wren, they get along well with other cavity-nesting birds like Bluebirds, Prothonotary Warblers, and others.
We've taken many pictures of the adult wrens as well as their nests and babies. This page is about their nesting habits, their young, and their value to the gardener or anyone who raises their own food.
Carolina Wrens Will Nest Almost Anywhere
Quirky Nesting Sites of Carolina WrensClick thumbnail to view full-size
Building Nests in Unusual Places
Next to Prothonotary Warblers, Carolina Wrens should get the prize for creative choices in nesting sites. They can make any cavity work and have been known to nest in everything from motorcycle and bicycle helmets to the vents of boats and everywhere in between.
Of course, they will nest in normal places like birdhouses and tree cavities, but they seem to prefer places around buildings, homes, and other man-made structures.
Here's a quick list of some of the odd places that we know of:
- Cinder blocks
- Plastic bowls
- Hanging baskets
- Bicycle helmets
- Motorcycle helmets
- Christmas wreaths
- Potting bench shelf
- Open eaves of a house
- Spare tire on the back of the van
- Roll of carpet in the outbuilding
- The pocket of clothes hanging on the line
- Flower pots
- Topsy turvy tomato planter
- Large tin cans in a garage
- Vents on a boat
Feed Me, Feed Me!
Nest With Abandoned Eggs
Nest in a Hanging BasketClick thumbnail to view full-size
Eggs, Babies, and Fledglings
The male wren builds many "dummy" nests in different places in the pair's territory. The female inspects each and chooses one and finishes it. She lays 4-7 brown, speckled eggs in the dome-shaped nest. She incubates the eggs for 12 to 16 days.
When the chicks hatch, they have no feathers, only a little fuzz and are blind and helpless. They grow quickly because both parents take care of the young, making hundreds of trips back and forth to the nest bringing tasty insects.
When the babies are 12 to 14 days old, they leave the nest. The parents still feed them but within 2 weeks, the pair has normally started building another nest.
Both Parents Feed the Young
About Insectivores and a DIY Suet Recipe
Unlike the Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wrens don't have bright, striking coloration. Both males and females are a pretty cinnamon-brown with a buffy underside. What they lack in looks they make up for in insect-eating ability. They eat primarily members of the Hymenoptera family which includes sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants. I've also seen them eat crickets and grasshoppers.
They enjoy suet all year round, but especially in the winter and early spring. Down here where it is hot and humid, we make a "no drip" suet from equal parts of wet ingredients and dry.
Here's Our "No Drip" Suet Recipe:
- 2 cups animal lard
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 wheat germ or shelled sunflower seeds
Don't substitute vegetable shortening; they need the real, high cholesterol, old-fashioned lard made from animal fat.
- Mix it all together and press into a pan lined with wax paper.
- Put it in the refrigerator or freezer to harden some.
- Cut into blocks to fit your feeder. The rest can be stored wrapped in the wax paper in a Ziplock bag in the freezer.
Both the male and the female feed the young. Most male wrens are excellent fathers. I have observed a male singing in the Mimosa tree after bringing food to the nest. When insects are in short supply, the parents often feed the young suet.
Male Carolina Wren Singing
Songs and Calls of the Carolina Wren
You usually know when the Carolina Wrens are in the area. The males love to sing and the females are constantly vocalizing. For their size, Carolina Wrens can sing exceptionally loud. If you weren't watching this small, brown bird sing, you wouldn't believe that the blasting song could have come from him.
They are also one of the first birds to send up the alarm when a predator is in the area. Then they will keep fussing even after all the other birds have gathered around.
More About Nesting Birds
- The Cardinal's Nest
Every bird watcher and most children recognize the male Northern Cardinal, a Christmas symbol, but many people know nothing about its nesting and courtship
Carolina Wren Babies Napping
Questions & Answers
I believe that the two baby Carolina Wrens in our nest, who were alive just yesterday, or at least one of them was, are now both dead. The mother and father keep coming to the nest box and looking in, but never have food, so they must know the babies are dead. What should I do?
The parents will probably build another nest somewhere else and try again. Many things can cause death in young chicks: cool weather, ants, house sparrows, poison on the insects the parents brought, and snakes. It's also best not to check a nest too often. You could remove the little dead bodies and check the box for ants or other problems.
Will a Wren reuse the same nest again?
In my yard, they usually build a new nest each time. It's normally not far away from the first, though.
We have been outside near our porch where our Carolina wrens are nesting. I noticed there were egg shells below the nest. How long can the babies go without food?
The parents usually take the egg shells far away from the nest. It could be that the nest was preyed upon, especially if the parents are nowhere to be seen.
There is a Carolina Wren nest next to my window air conditioner. Will they be okay if I turn it on?
I had a pair of wrens build a nest and raise babies by a window unit, but we only used it during emergencies like hurricanes. If that's your only source of cool air, then use it. If the hot air doesn't blow out on the nest they should be okay.