The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Carolina Wren Youngsters Are Out and About
by Ro Wauer

The first brood of Carolina wrens already is out and about. They are spending the majority of their time searching for bugs and spiders in every conceivable hole, crack and cranny on and around our backyard deck. There are at least four of the poorly marked fledglings, with a stubby tail and white eyebrows. They all seem extremely busy but yet slightly unsure of the best techniques for finding food. All the while the adults perch nearby, apparently letting their youngsters learn on their own. When one of the youngsters gets close enough, however, the adult will pick up a bit of food and feed its young. But the youngster’s uncertainty can be rather humorous to anyone watching their antics, whether it involves walking up and down a tree trunk, probing into a flower pot, or investigating the underside of a birdbath.

Our Carolina wrens have been in breeding mode a good part of the spring. It was first evident by the adult’s increased and more vigorous singing. They sang from numerous sites, ranging from flowering plants on the deck to the chimney top. Singing began to subside when nest-building activities began. Then we watched the adults gathering nesting materials that they carried to at least two sites. One was located in a pan in the open garage adjacent to the deck. The other was situated under the deck in an out of sight location. This was the nest that eventually produced the four youngsters.

An examination of the ingredients of the garage nest included an amazing array of materials. Although most was grasses and tiny twigs, pieces of string and thread, bits of paper and plastic, and a couple of tree branches larger than an adult bird were also present. How a bird the size of a Carolina wren, only two-thirds the size of a robin, was able to haul such a load and place it strategically on a nest located six feet above the floor is a wonder.

The Carolina wren is one of our most common resident birds. Like cardinals, they are year-round residents. They can be commonplace around our homes and yards inside and outside the cities. They are our largest wren, about six inches in length. Adults possess a rust to buff plumage, with fine black streaks across their wings and short tail, and bold white eyebrows, one of their most distinguishing features. Although Carolina wrens are common throughout the eastern half of Texas, from Brownsville to Texarkana and west to San Angelo and Abilene, they are not found in the far west or to the north. They are truly wrens of the eastern and southern portions of North America and south into Mexico.

A Carolina wren’s nesting process, from egg-laying to fledglings, requires only about two weeks. Nest-building can vary considerably, depending on weather conditions and the availability of materials. And when the youngsters are finally out and about, it will take only another two to three weeks before they can hardly be separated from the adults. But these few days offer some really special observations to anyone with the time and inclination to watch.

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