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Winter Wren Life History


Habitat 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


Food 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

Nest 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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Behavior 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


Conservation Low ConcernWinter Wrens are common throughout their range and their numbers were fairly stable from 1966 to 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 11 million with 99% spending part of the time in the U.S., and 91% in Canada. This is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Winter Wren is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Back to top

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.

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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.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2016). The State of North America's Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. 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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