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Winter Wren Life History


ForestsWinter Wrens use evergreen forests with spruce, fir, and hemlock as well as deciduous forests. They are more common in old-growth evergreen and deciduous forests than in younger forests stands. In winter, they move south or to lower elevations with milder temperatures. Here they use dense tangles, gardens, and brushy fields as well as deciduous forests. Back to top


InsectsWinter Wrens eat beetles, ants, flies, mites, caterpillars, millipedes, and spiders among other things. In the fall, they also eat juniper or other berries when available. They hop slowly on the ground or just above the ground inspecting crevices, decaying wood, upturned roots, and vegetation for food. They capture prey by picking it off surfaces or by probing in decaying bark.Back to top


Nest Placement

CavityWinter Wrens build domed-shaped globular nests or nest inside natural cavities. Males build several nests each season, often near streams in roots of upturned trees, under creek banks, in decaying logs, in hanging moss, or in dead trees. He shows each nest to the female, and she chooses which one to use. Females help line the inside of the nest, but do not build them. Nest height ranges from ground level to about 23 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Males build nests out of moss, bark, twigs, rootlets, grass, and other plant material they find close to the nest site to help with camouflage. Both sexes line the nest with feathers and animal hair. Nest size varies depending on the size of the cavity and placement of the nest. At times, nests can be the size of a football.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-9 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.8 in (1.5-1.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.2-1.4 cm)
Incubation Period:14-17 days
Nestling Period:15-17 days
Egg Description:White with small pale to reddish brown spots concentrated on the larger end of the egg.
Condition at Hatching:Naked with a few straggly down feathers.
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Ground ForagerWinter Wrens fly short distances with rapid wingbeats in the understory. They scurry and hop along fallen trees and roots in search of food. They can also cling to tree trunks in a manner similar to a Brown Creeper. Winter Wrens intently search downed logs, root masses, and dense foliage on the ground or within low shrubs for insects. Once they find food they pick it from the foliage or jump up to grab it. Winter Wrens are energetic birds that often bob their bodies as if doing squats. During the breeding season males sing with vigor from prominent perches in the understory. When a female enters a male’s territory, he continues to sing, flutters his wings, and cocks his tail side to side. During courtship, the male leads the female around to each of several nests he has built in his territory. The female then chooses which nest to use. Back to top


Low Concern

Winter Wrens are common throughout their range and their numbers have been fairly stable from 1966 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 11 million and rates them 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. However, Winter Wren is a bird of mature and old-growth forests, and its habitat continues to shrink from logging and fragmentation, so there is concern for the long-term future of the species.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Hejl, Sallie J., Jennifer A. Holmes and Donald E. Kroodsma. (2002). Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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