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Winter Wren

Troglodytes hiemalis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TROGLODYTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In the tangled understory of eastern forests, a tiny ball of energy lets loose with a rich cascade of bubbly notes. This songster is none other than the Winter Wren, shaking as it sings its astoundingly loud song. It sports a palette of browns with dark barring on the wings, tail, and belly. It habitually holds its tiny tail straight up and bounces up and down. This rather weak flier hops and scampers among fallen logs mouselike, inspecting upturned roots and vegetation for insects.

Keys to identification Help

Wrens
Wrens
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Winter Wren is a plump round ball with a stubby tail that it usually holds straight up. Its bill is small and thin, in keeping with its diminutive appearance.

  • Color Pattern

    In the dark forest understory, the Winter Wren appears brown overall. With a closer look, you’ll see darker brown barring on the wings, tail, and belly. It has a pale tan eyebrow stripe above the eye and a plain brown cap. Its unmarked throat and barred belly are pale tan, paler than the back.

  • Behavior

    Winter Wrens hop and scamper through the understory moving more like a mouse than a bird as they investigate upturned roots and decaying logs for food. These energetic birds often bob their entire bodies as if doing squats while they nervously look around in the forest understory. In flight they rapidly beat their tiny wings to move short distances between cover.

  • Habitat

    Winter Wrens use both deciduous and evergreen forests with plenty of downed logs, standing dead trees, larger trees, and understory vegetation. They are often more common in areas near streams.

Range Map Help

Winter Wren Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Winter Wren

    Adult
    • Tiny, round-bodied wren
    • Short tail usually held up
    • Dark barring on belly, wings, and tail
    • Tiny, thin bill
    • © Suzanne Labbé/Macaulay Library, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, October 2016
  • Adult

    Winter Wren

    Adult
    • Tiny, round-bodied wren
    • Short tail usually held up
    • Pale eyebrow
    • Dark barring on belly and wings
    • © Tom Murray/Macaulay Library, Middlesex, Massachusetts, December 2016
  • Adult

    Winter Wren

    Adult
    • Tiny, round-bodied wren
    • Short tail usually held up
    • Dark barring on belly, wings, and tail
    • Tiny, thin bill
    • © Bill Thompson, South Athol , Massachusetts, October 2011
  • Adult

    Winter Wren

    Adult
    • Very small and stocky with stubby tail usually sticking up at angle
    • Small, thin bill
    • Pale eyebrow not always obvious
    • Dark barring on belly
    • © Dwayne Java, Holiday Beach, Ontario, Canada, October 2010
  • Adult

    Winter Wren

    Adult
    • Tiny, round-bodied wren
    • Short tail usually held up
    • Dark barring on belly, wings, and tail
    • Tiny, thin bill
    • © Bill Thompson, South Athol, Massachusetts, October 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Pacific Wren

    Adult
    • Very little range overlap
    • Darker and more cinnamon overall
    • Darker brown throat
    • © Jacob McGinnis, Basset Pond, Woodinville, Washington, October 2015
  • Adult

    House Wren

    Adult
    • Longer tail
    • Body appears longer and slenderer
    • Paler colored overall, especially on the throat and breast
    • Less barring on the sides of the belly
    • © Conrad Tan, April 2011
  •  

    House Wren

     
    • Paler and more elongated than Winter Wren
    • Longer bill and tail
    • Pale throat and breast
    • No barring on belly
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, June 2012
  • Adult

    Marsh Wren

    Adult
    • Uses marshes, not forest
    • Black stripes down back
    • White (not tan) eyebrow
    • Unmarked belly
    • © Jay McGowan/Macaulay Library, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Cayuga, New York, October 2016
  • Adult

    Bewick's Wren

    Adult
    • Ranges overlap in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Kansas
    • Larger and less round than Winter Wren
    • Longer tail and bill
    • Unstreaked belly
    • White (not tan) eyebrow
    • © Caroline Lambert/Macaulay Library, Santa Clara, California, January 2016

Similar Species

Plumage pattern and tail length help separate many wrens in the United States and Canada. The Pacific Wren is nearly identical to the Winter Wren, but there’s almost no range overlap. Winter Wrens occur in the East and Pacific Wrens in the West—west of the Great Plains, although the two species do come into contact in northeastern British Columbia in Canada. In areas where they overlap, voice is the key to separating them. The call of the Pacific Wren is more like the chip of a Wilson's Warbler while the call of the Winter Wren is more like the bark of a Song Sparrow. Pacific Wrens also have more barring on the belly than Winter Wrens. House Wrens are more widespread, less shy, and more likely to be found in backyards than Winter Wrens. House Wrens have longer tails and look longer and more slender. They are also paler overall compared to Winter Wrens, especially on the throat and breast, and have less barring on the flanks. Marsh Wrens have boldly streaked marks on their backs that Winter Wrens lack, and live in wet marshy areas, places that Winter Wrens avoid. Bewick’s Wrens are larger with a clean white eyebrow, an unstreaked gray belly, and an unstreaked brown back.

Backyard Tips

Landscaping with native plants is a good way to provide habitat for Winter Wrens. Maintaining areas with dense vegetation and brush piles can provide foraging and maybe even nesting opportunities. Learn more about creating bird friendly yards with native plants at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

In summer, Winter Wrens are often commonly found in evergreen forests near streams with lots of fallen logs and dense understories. Listen for their loud and bubbly song, especially early in the morning during the breeding season (April–July) when you are most likely to find them perched on a stump or low branch in the understory shaking with their singing efforts. In winter they become much more widespread in the eastern United States and move from deep forest into more open or younger woods where they can be easier to find. Listen for their quieter barking call, similar to a Song Sparrow and watch for quick mouselike movements along fallen logs and upturned roots in the understory.

Get Involved

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count and tell us how many species you see in your yard. Find out more at Great Backyard Bird Count.

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