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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.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
3.1–4.7 in
8–12 cm
Wingspan
4.7–6.3 in
12–16 cm
Weight
0.3–0.4 oz
8–12 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, smaller than a Carolina Wren.
Other Names
  • Wren (British)
  • Troglodyte mignon (French)
  • Chivirín chochín (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Per unit weight, the Winter Wren delivers its song with 10 times more power than a crowing rooster.
  • Male Winter Wrens build multiple nests within their territory. During courtship, males lead the female around to each nest and the female chooses which nest to use.
  • The Winter Wren is almost identical to the Pacific Wren and Eurasian Wren, and the three were considered the same species until 2010. Genetic and other evidence prompted researchers to split them into the Pacific Wren of western North America, the Winter Wren of eastern North America, and the Eurasian Wren of the Old World.
  • Where the ranges of the Pacific Wren and Winter Wren come together, in British Columbia, the two almost identical species sing different songs. The males battle each other, but the females seem to choose only mates that sing "their" song—keeping interbreeding to a minimum. Find out more in Living Bird magazine.
  • The Americas are the land of the wren: more than 80 species live in North and South America, but only one wren occurs in the rest of the world (the Eurasian Wren).
  • The oldest recorded Winter Wren was a female and at least 6 years, 6 months old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2009. She had been banded in the same state in 2003.

Habitat


Forest

Winter 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.

Food


Insects

Winter 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.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–9 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.7 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.
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.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Winter 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.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Winter 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.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Winter 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.

Credits

Range Map Help

Winter Wren Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to short-distance migrant

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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