Bent Life History of the Carolina Wren
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Carolina Wren - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
THRYOTHORUS LUDOVICIANUS LUDOVICIANUS (Latham)
In attempting to compile the life histories of the wrens of this species, I have not overlooked and shall not attempt to criticize a recent important paper on the geographical variation in the Carolina wren by George H. Lowery, Jr. (1940), in which he splits the species into eight subspecies, one of which is Mexican. This makes a rather large addition to the three races now recognized in our 1931 Check-list. Doubtless some of his races, perhaps all of them, are worthy of recognition in nomenclature. But, as the author does not claim to be a systematic ornithologist, it seems best for a work of this kind to follow the nomenclature and classification of the latest Check-list, as has been done in previous volumes.
I have always associated the Carolina wren with the sunny South, one of that happy trio of birds that are always ready to greet the northern bird lover with their loud cheery songs as he travels southward; the songs of this wren, the tufted titmouse, and the cardinal have enough in common to confuse a newcomer when he hears them for the first time, but they are really different when carefully studied; however, they are all delightful and give us a warm touch of southern hospitality, a hearty welcome to Dixie Land.
But we cannot now regard the Carolina wren as exclusively a southern bird, for it seems to have been extending its range northward during the early part of the present century. The 1931 Check-list gave as the probable northern limits of its range "southeastern Nebraska, southern Iowa, Ohio, southern Pennsylvania, and lower Hudson and Connecticut valleys" and called it "casual or accidental in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts." Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1909) has published an interesting paper on what he calls an invasion of this wren into New England, giving a large number of records for various States; most of these are fall and winter records, but there are enough breeding records mentioned to indicate that the Carolina wren may be regarded as a rare breeding bird in at least southern New England. It has long been known to breed on Naushon Island, off the coast of southern Massachusetts; Forbush (1929) mentions several other Massachusetts breeding records, and Knight (1908) records a breeding record for Maine.
Dr. Chapman (1912) says of the haunts of the Carolina wren: "The cozy nooks and corners about the home of man which prove so attractive to the House Wren are less commonly chosen by this bird. His wild nature more often demands the freedom of the forests, and he shows no disposition to adapt himself to new conditions. Undergrowths near water, fallen tree tops, brush heaps, and rocky places in the woods where he can dodge in and out and in a twinkling appear or disappear like a feathered Jack-in-the-box, are the resorts he chooses."
The last part of this statement is undoubtedly true, but there is plenty of evidence that he has learned "to adapt himself to new conditions." Milton P. Skinner (1928), for example, says that, in the sandhills of North Carolina, these wrens "are dwellers in the dooryards and about houses, more even than in wilder haunts. Almost all kinds of shrubbery attract them, but they like the thickest, thorny kind the best. While they are generally in the bushes and lower growth, they sometimes go higher into trees, even as much as thirty feet above the ground." Arthur H. Howell (1924) says that, in Alabama, "although partial to low bottomland timber," it is "found also about farmyards and in town gardens. Indeed, so domestic is it at times that it is often called 'house wren'." Other observers give us similar impressions and the bird certainly shows considerable adaptability in its choice of a great variety of nesting sites about human structures. There is no doubt, however, that it has always shown a preference for the wilder woodland thickets, preferably along watercourses and in swamps, but also in hammocks and in isolated clumps of trees and bushes on the prairies and pine barrens throughout the South.
Courtship: I can find no information on this subject, but Mrs. Amelia R. Laskey has sent me some notes that indicate some degree of constancy. A male banded June 25, 1934, was recaptured at intervals until January 18, 1938; and a female banded November 19, 1934, was taken at intervals until the summer of 1939. Thus the male was at least 4½ years old, and the female at least 5 years old. "Part of the period they are positively known to have been mates, as they wore colored plumes and were seen together in winter as well as in the nesting season." Others have noticed that they are often seen in pairs all through winter.
Nesting: The Carolina wren originally nested in woodlands, thickets, brushy hollows, and swamps and along the banks of streams, where it could find cover; and it still does so over most of its range, without taking advantage of the many opportunities offered in and about human structures. In these wilder spots it may build its nest m a hole in a tree or stump, in the open crotch of a tree, in a densely branched cedar, in the upturned roots of a fallen tree, on the ground under the exposed roots of a tree or under dense undergrowth, in a hole in a bank or under its overhang among tangled roots, in a cavity in a stone wall, or even in a sheaf of grain in an open field. Nests in such situations are hard to find and are probably not so often reported as the more obvious sites about human dwellings.
Most of the sites mentioned above are obviously at very low elevations, seldom as much as 10 feet above ground, even in trees. But M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., writes to me of a nest that was "30 feet up in a black walnut. This nest was extremely large and located on a partially broken-off limb growing upward and almost parallel to the main body of the tree. A few sprouts had grown out from the broken limb," which helped to prevent the nest from being blown away. "The nest was composed of dried leaves and sticks and lined with fowl feathers, forming a great ball with the entrance facing north and at the very center of the ball." Nests in such open situations in trees are usually domed or arched over, with a side entrance.
Nests of the more domestically inclined wrens have been reported in a great variety of nooks and crannies in, about, or under buildings of various kinds, under bridges, or in holes in fence posts. Almost any kind of receptacles left lying around, such as tin cans, coffee pots, pails, small baskets, pitchers, or empty boxes may be used. Old discarded hats and caps or the pockets of old clothes, coats, or overalls, left hanging in sheds or on porches, may offer acceptable nesting sites. Nests have been found in mail boxes, bird boxes, old hornets' nests, and ivy vines growing over porches; and the nest is sometimes built in an unused cupboard or on a mantel shelf inside a house. Dr. Witmer Stone (1911) writes: "In a country place near Philadelphia, a pair of Carolina Wrens entered the sitting-room through a window that was left partly open, and built their nest in the back of an upholstered sofa, entering where a hole had been torn in the back. Needless to say, they were not disturbed, and given full possession until the young were safely reared." Mr. Vaiden tells of a pair of these wrens that raised a brood of young "in the pitcher of a pitcher-pump," left in the basement of a house. "The parents came through the partly opened basement window and gave little attention to the humans that had to occasionally go into the basement."
Dr. George M. Sutton (1930) says that, in Brooke County, XV. Va., "the bulky nests were found as a rule in out-buildings, and none was found in the woods far from a human dwelling. One nest was built in a rumpled paper sack which lay on a shelf in a woodshed. * * * A. nest found in 1917 was built into the corner of a large drygoods box which had been nailed to the shadowy back of a barn." The cavity was far too big, but a large lot of material had been brought in and the structure was neat. "In front of the nest proper was a crude path of weed-stalks and leaves possibly eighteen inches in length. The entire nest with its approach could be lifted easily, so skilfully were the stalks and leaf stems interwoven.”
Clara Calhoun (1911) tells of a most interesting nest that was built "in a bolt-rack in a busy country blacksmith shop. * * * The mother bird knew no fear, but flew boldly about, gathering shavings and excelsior fairly under the smith's hands and feet, approaching the nest over a horse that was being shod, and often keeping her place upon it when the smith worked at the vise for welding tires, * * * undaunted by the ringing blows or showers of sparks." A brood of five young was raised in this nest.
The Carolina wren is satisfied with almost any soft and pliable material that is available with which to build its nest, such as grasses, weed stalks, strips of inner bark, leaves, mosses, rootlets, and feathers; many nests contain pieces of cast-off snakeskin, and some are partially lined with this. The lining generally consists of fine grass, fine rootlets, hair, feathers, and sometimes Spanish moss. George F. Simmons (1925) adds the following materials, used in Texas nests: Small twigs, corn husks, pieces of paper, string, thread, wool, rags, and leaf skeletons.
I am told that Herbert L. Stoddard has a record of a successful nesting in a farm tractor that was in daily use.
Eggs: The Carolina wren lays four to six eggs to a set; probably five is the commonest number; sets of eight have been recorded. These are mostly ovate but often more rounded and sometimes somewhat elongated. The ground color is usually pure white, but often pinkish white or creamy white. They are usually more heavily marked with larger spots than other wrens' eggs, but not always, as some are very sparingly and faintly marked with fine dots. The markings may be evenly distributed, but generally they are irregularly scattered and often concentrated in a ring about the larger end. The markings are in several lighter and darker shades of reddish brown, and there are sometimes underlying blotches in light shades of "Quaker drab" or "lavender,'' producing a very pretty effect.
The measurements of 50 eggs average 19.1 by 14.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.8 by 15.2, 19.8 by 15.8, and 16.8 by 14.2 millimeters.
Young: The period of incubation is said to be 12 to 14 days, and the young remain in the nest for about the same length of time. Evidently the task of incubation is performed wholly by the female; at least I can find no evidence that the male ever incubates. But both parents work together industriously to feed the young, in the nest and for a time after they leave it. At least two broods are ordinarily raised in a season and often three in the more southern localities. McIlwraith (1894) says that even in Ontario "the Carolina Wren is a very prolific species, the female turning over to the male the care of the first brood before they are able to shift for themselves, while she proceeds to deposit a second set of eggs in another nest, which the male has prepared for their reception. Family number two is turned over to the male in due course, and in this way three broods are raised during the season in a very short time."
Plumages: Soon after hatching the young wrens are scantily decorated with slate-colored down; the juvenal plumage develops rapidly and they are well clothed by the time they leave the nest. In the juvenal plumage young birds look much like the adults, but they are paler in color and the plumage is softer in texture; the wing coverts are tipped with buffy white, the superciliary stripe is less clearly white, the underparts are whiter, and there is some dusky barring or mottling on the flanks and sides of the head.
The first winter plumage is acquired by a partial postjuvenal molt in August and September, involving the contour plumage, the wing coverts, and the tail, but not the rest of the wings. This plumage is darker and richer in color than the juvenal plumage, chestnut or Vandyke brown above and deep cinnamon below, with white tips on the wing coverts and a whiter superciliary stripe, young and old becoming practically indistinguishable.
Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in August and September; after this molt, in fresh fall plumage, all the colors are brighter and richer than in the worn and faded plumage seen in spring. The sexes are alike in all plumages.
Food: In his study of the food of the Carolina wren, Professor Beal (Beal, McAtee, and Kalmbach, 1916) examined 291 stomachs, representing every month. The contents were found to consist of 94.18 percent animal matter, nearly all insects, and 5.82 percent vegetable matter, chiefly seeds. Of the animal food, beetles made up 13.64 percent, all injurious except 1.71 percent of predatory ground beetles; among the beetles found were several species of weevils, including the cottonboll weevil, 31 individuals being found in 18 stomachs; other beetles were the two cucumber beetles, the bean leaf beetle, and numerous flea beetles. Of the Hymenoptera, ants amounted to 4.63 percent and bees and wasps to about the same. Hemiptera – stink bugs, soldier bugs, leaf-legged bugs, leafhoppers, and chinch bugs: made up 18.91 percent, one of the largest items. Scale insects destructive to oranges were found in one stomach. The largest item of all proved to be caterpillars and a few moths, 21.73 percent. Orthoptera, including grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches and their eggs, made up 12.57 percent of the food. Flies are evidently not popular, as the average for the year was only a little over 3 percent; daddy-longlegs and craneflies were the most popular. On the other hand, spiders seem to be very attractive; they were eaten in every month, and from April to August to the extent of 16.67 percent, and the average for the year was 10.54 percent; spiders must be easily obtained in the many nooks and crannies that the Carolina wren explores. Other small items of animal food included millipeds, sowbugs, and snails. "Vertebrate animals would hardly be expected to form part of the diet of so small a bird, but the Carolina wren eats them often. Remains of lizards were found in 14 stomachs, tree frogs in 8, and a snake in 1; totaling 1.92 percent." Of the vegetable food, a little fruit pulp was found in a few stomachs, seeds of bayberry in 20, sweet gum in 10, poison ivy in 7, sumac in 4, pine in 2, weed seeds in 7, and ground-up acorns in 2.
Several observers have noted that Carolina wrens xviii come freely to feeding stations, if placed near brush piles, thickets, or other suitable shelter, where they will feed on ground peanuts, suet, marrow of bones, or ground hamburg steak.
Behavior: Like others of its tribe, the Carolina wren is the embodiment of tireless energy and activity, seldom still for a moment, as he dodges in and out of the underbrush or creeps over and around a pile of logs, appearing and disappearing with the suddenness of a mouse, diving into one crevice in a wood pile, and popping out of another in some unexpected place. His movements are exceedingly quick and sudden, accompanied by frequent teetering of the body and nervous jerking of the upturned tail, chattering to himself the while, or stopping occasionally to pour out one or two strains of his joyous song, for he is a merry little chap and seems to enjoy his elusive ways. We may watch him thus, if we stand quietly, but if we move toward him, he immediately darts into the thickest cover and disappears; it is useless to pursue him, for he has a tantalizing way of keeping out of sight ahead of us and mocking us with his derisive chatter; he is more than a match for us in the game of hide and seek. C. J. Maynard (1896) says: "I have frequently seen these wrens in isolated bushes and, after seeing them vanish, have beat about the place where they disappeared, then through it without starting them, afterwards finding that the wily birds had escaped by running with great rapidity beneath the grass and weeds to the next thicket."
Although this wren does not like to be pursued, or even approached too closely, he has sufficient curiosity and boldness to do his own approaching. If we sit or stand still in some inconspicuous position, and especially if we make a squeaking noise, he will be one of the first birds to show himself and may come within a few feet of us to look us over; but a move on our part causes him to vanish immediately.
His shyness and timidity are apparent enough, especially in his woodland haunts, and it is difficult to surprise the female on her nest, from which she slips away quietly and unobserved. But the pair have often shown remarkable friendliness and confidence in human beings by building their nests in and about our premises, by coming to our feeding stations, and by roosting under the shelter of our homes. These wrens have been known to roost several times in abandoned hornets' nests; for example, Prof. Maurice Brooks (1932) writes:
Some time during the fall of 19~7 my father found, and carried to the house, a verp large nest built by white-faced hornets (Veapa macdata). This nest was hung up in an out-building, and no attention was paid to it until late in the winter when we found, to our surprise, that a pair of Carolina Wrens had enlarged the opening, and were using it as a nightly roosting place.
The birds continued to roost there until spring; when they carefully constructed a nest of their own, in the top of the hornets' nest, away from the opening. For some reason, they later abandoned this home in favor of one in a nearby bird box.
When fail came we waited with interest to see if they would again take up their old abode. Going out to look one frosty morning before daylight, we heard them stirring in the nest, and they used It regularly from then on. This they have repeated every year until the present winter.
Another nest was placed in the same building last fall, and the resident pair, whether or not the original 1927 Individuals we do not know, Immediately took up quarters in the enlarged opening of the new nest In their new home they are plainly visible, and they have allowed us to study them with flashlights. They do not seem to be in the least disturbed when we suddenly turn a light upon them. The outer bird musts with one wing spread across the opening, and this, perhaps, shuts out most of the light.
One morning, just at daybreak, I went out to the building where the nests are hung, lighted a small gas stove, and placed before it a bucket of water over which a layer of ice had frozen. Returning in a few minutes, I found both birds perched on the rim of the bucket, as near to the fire as they could get. Whether the heat. or the light was the attraction I cannot say, hut they presented as charming a bird picture as I have ever seen.
In The Migrant, volume 14, pages 1: 5, 1943, is a symposium on how birds spend their winter nights. In this the Carolina wren is reported as roosting in a pocket in a shirt that hung on a clothesline, in a fold of an old portiere hanging in a garage, and in a pocket of an old coat that hung on a porch.
Carolina wrens, like other wrens, are not much given to protracted flights; most of their short flights in their favorite retreats are erratic dartings from one perch to another or from one log to another; but in longer flights in the open, which they seldom have to make, their flights are direct and straight with rapid beats of their short wings. Most of their activity is near the ground, hopping from branch to branch with sprightly activity, or creeping over, around, and under piles of wood and always prying into every nook and crevice in search of spiders and insect food. Several observers have noted their ability to climb the trunks of trees, sometimes to a considerable height, prying into the crevices in the bark for food much after the manner of the creepers.
Voice: The Carolina wren is one of our great singers, a beautiful singer and a most persistent singer. It is one of the few birds that sing more or less during every month in the year, though it sings most persistently and most enthusiastically during the late winter and spring months; it sings in all kinds of weather, spring sunshine, summer rains, or winter snowstorms; during the height of its song period it may be heard all through the day, from dawn to dusk. It has a varied repertoire; the songs of other birds are often suggested, or perhaps imitated, leading to some confusion at times, but it has a very distinct and characteristic song of its own, which is unmistakable.
The song is a loud, ringing combination of rich, whistling notes, given with a definite and emphatic swing and a decided accent; it can be heard for a long distance and is so pleasing in its cheering effect that it can hardly pass unnoticed by even the most casual observer. The phrases consist of two to four syllables, usually two or three, and each phrase is repeated two or three times with short intervals between the phrases. Among the 28 references to the song of this bird that I have consulted, I find an almost endless variety of interpretations, expressed in human words or in expressive syllables. I shall select only a few of the best of each which, to my mind, most clearly recall the song. Among the human words, those that please me best are "tea-kéttle, tea-kéttle, tea-kéttle"; others are "sweet heart, sweet heart," "sweet William, sweet William," "come to me, come to me," "Richelieu, Richelieu, Richelieu," "Jew-Pet-er, Jew-Pet-er," "tree- double-tree, double-tree, double-tree," "sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar," "which jailer, which jailer," etc. All these phrases seem to suggest what is the most characteristic song of the Carolina wren; some of them may also suggest the song of the Maryland yellowthroat, but there is a great difference in the tone and quality.
Similar suggestions of the same song are found in the many different syllables used to describe it, such as whee-udel, 'whee-udel, 'whee~udel, che-whortel, che-whortel; jo-reaper, jo-repar, jo-ree; 'willyway, willy-way; túrtree, túrt'ree, túrtree; and there are many other similar renderings.
There are, of course, various other songs, notably a loud whistle like that of the cardinal and one that sounds like the peto, peto, peto of the tufted titmouse, as suggested by some of the above syllables. Songs have been heard that resemble the rattle of the kingfisher, the call of the flicker, and songs of the pine warbler, towhee, red-winged blackbird, meadowlark, Baltimore oriole, bluebird, catbird, white-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, and song sparrow, all of which have given the wren credit as an imitator of birds that it has heard, and it has been called the "mocking wren." Some of these songs may be actual imitations, but many of them may be only expressions of its own great versatility in song. Nuttall (1832) goes into this matter at great length, describing many songs, and adds: "Amidst these imitations and variations, which seem almost endless, and lead the stranger to imagine himself, even in the depth of winter, surrounded by all the quaint choristers of the summer, there is still, with our capricious and tuneful mimic, a favorite theme more constantly and regularly repeated than the rest."
In addition to its varied songs, the Carolina wren has a number of call, alarm, or scolding notes, among which Mr. Simmons (1925) lists "calls, with much rolling of the r’s, terrp; tierrp-tier-r-p; chier-r-r; cheerrp, tieu u u; a slower tieur-r-r, tieur-r-, tieur-r-r, about a two second interval between each; cack; clack; clink; clinking metallic rattles; musical trills and tree-toad-like k-r-r-r-r-ings.”
Dawson (1903) writes: "On all occasions this nervous little creature appears to be f till of a sort of compressed air, which escapes from time to time in a series of mild explosions, like the lid of a teakettle being jarred up and down by steam. When the valve is opened a little wider there follows an accelerando rattling call, which seems to be modeled after the chirr of the red squirrel; and when the throttle is held wide open the rattling notes are telescoped together into an emphatic 'kurr'r'st,' which brings one up standing.”
Aretas A. Saunders has 78 records of the songs of the Carolina wren. Following are some quotations from his notes: "In form the song is much like that of the Maryland yellowthroat, but the louder, clearer quality, lower pitch, and frequency of liquid consonant sounds make it sound quite different. Individual birds sing a great number of variations. In June 1930 I recorded eight different songs from one individual in less than half an hour. In 1928 a wren of this species lived in a locality that I visited frequently, and I recorded 36 different songs from it through the season.
"In pitch my records vary from G ‘ ‘ to A ‘ ‘ ‘ , one tone more than an octave, and all the notes, so far as my ear could determine, lower than the highest note of the piano. The widest pitch variation in one song is four and a half tones, and the least one tone, the average about two tones.
"The length of a single song varies from about 11/5 to 31/5 seconds and depends mainly on the number of times the bird repeats the phrase of the song. As a rule, one phrase occupies about two-fifths of a second, except in unusual songs where a phrase is longer or shorter than usual."
Field marks: The Carolina wren is the largest of the wrens found in eastern North America, hence the former name "great Carolina wren." It is rather a chunky bird, rich reddish brown above and buff below, except for the white chin and the barred under tail coverts. There is a conspicuous, long, white stripe over the eye. The tail is brown like the back and is barred, but it is not fan-shaped or white-tipped, like the tail of Bewick's wren.
Enemies: T his wren is annoyed by the usual external parasites that infest other birds; Harold S. Peters (1936) lists four species of ticks, two of mites, and one louse that cause some irritation. Probably some die from eating poisoned flies and other insects, and predatory mammals and birds may take their toll. The house wren is a competitor for nesting sites, but Dr. Sutton (1930) found no evidence that the house wren molested the nests of the Carolina wren, and concluded that these two species could live together with less friction than the house wren and Bewick's wren.
Dr. Friedmann (1929) gives several instances in which this wren was victimized by the cowbird; and Mrs. Nice (1931) lists 4 nests out of 16 that were so parasitized in Oklahoma.
Winter: The Carolina wren is preferably a sedentary species; it likes to remain where it has found a suitable home throughout the year. This trait has somewhat limited the northward extension of its permanent range. Migratory birds may extend their range northward in spring and summer and retire southward before winter; they thus escape the rigors of a northern winter; but this wren does not seem to take this wise precaution. During summers and mild winters they increase in numbers throughout the middle and northern States, as illustrated by Dr. Townsend's (1909) account of the invasion of New England; these are probably unmated or young birds seeking new territory. But they are not hardy birds, and the next severe winter may result disastrously for the adventurous pioneers. Most of their food is obtained on or near the ground, and when a deep fall of snow covers the ground for a long time and is accompanied by severe cold, most of the wrens succumb to cold and starvation. As a result we have alternating periods of scarcity in the northern States and probably shall never have permanent abundance. Forbush (1929) gives the records for several such periods in New England from 1903 to 1922.
Even as far south as Washington, D. C., similar fluctuations in numbers have been noted by Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1923), who says:
Since the winter of 1917–1918, when the Carolina Wren was greatly reduced In numbers in the Washington region, this species has increased gradually until the fall of 1921 (after four breeding seasons) it was again fairly common, though still somewhat below its normal abundance. * * * A sudden heavy snowfall that continued from January 27 to 29, 1922, when the snow reached the unusual depth of twenty-six inches once more proved disastrous to the bird under discussion. The heavy blanket of snow melted slowly and not until February 3 did bare ground appear. * * * Observations during February and March show that the Carolina Wren has again decreased in this region though those that remain are somewhat greater in number than was the case in spring of 1918. The supposition advanced in my former note that decrease in this species was due not to cold but to the heavy blanket of snow that buried the normal food supply, seems substantiated.
And Prof. Maurice Brooks (1936) reports that in West Virginia, where this wren has always been one of the commonest permanent resident birds, it practically disappeared during the severe winter of 1935: 36. During late January "this section was subjected to temperatures ranging from sixteen to thirty degrees below zero, and after that the species was not again noted until April. One boy in Upshur County found five Carolina Wrens frozen to death, and there were other reports of individuals found dead."
The wrens that survive northern winters generally live in sheltered localities. The one that Dr. Townsend and I saw at Ipswich, Mass., was living in a planted thicket of spruces near a house and close to the sea on February 7, 1909, where it was seen again up to March 12. Dr. Witmer Stone (1911) writes:
In the low, flat ground bordering the tide-water creeks of southwestern New Jersey, they are particularly abundant, especially in midwinter, when it always seemed to me that most of the Cardinals and Carolina Wrens gathered in these swamps from all the country round about. Here they find food and shelter suitable to their needs, and here the winter sun seems to shine more warmly than back in the higher grounds of Pennsylvania.
The Carolina Wren, however, is not entirely confined to these low grounds in winter, but ranges well up the narrow valleys and deep ravines, and often we find him along the rocky banks of some ravine where flows a narrow, tumbling stream and here the hemlocks of the North mingle with the redbud and tulip-tree of the South.
A note recently received from Mrs. Laskey states that Nashville, Tenn., "experienced an unusually cold winter in 1940, the low temperatures and heavy snows in January were disastrous apparently to our Carolina Wrens. They were very scarce during the following nesting season. Previously, everywhere one went, its cheery song and its trills could be heard in winter. This year, 1941, they have not been so scarce, but in my observations not reaching normal numbers."
Mrs. Mary C. Rhoads (1924) tells an interesting story of a Carolina wren that spent the winter nights in her conservatory in Haddonfield, N. J. He entered each night and left each morning, at first through an open door, but eventually through a hole she made for him which he learned to use. He roosted, ate, drank, bathed, and sang there all winter, sometimes even entering the dining room to pick up crumbs; he continued to patronize the conservatory from sometime in the fall until March 24, and must have made a delightful winter guest.
Mr. Saunders writes to me from Fairfield, Conn.: "My records since I have lived in Fairfield show that this bird was not found from 1920 to 1925, but was recorded fairly frequently from 1925 to 1938. Then it disappeared again till 1939 but has been present since April of that year up to the present (November 1941)."
Range: Eastern United States and northeastern Mexico; nonmigratory.
The Carolina wren breeds north to southeastern Nebraska (Superior); southern Iowa (Des Moines and Sigourney); southern Michigan (Ann Arbor and Detroit); southern Ontario (Point Pelee, London, and Toronto); southern Connecticut (Bridgeport, New Haven, and Chester); southern Rhode Island (Middletown); and southeastern Massachusetts (Naushon). From this line the Carolina Wren is found in all the States south to Florida, the Gulf coast and northeastern Mexico; Tamaulipas (Ciudad Victoria); Nuevo Leon (Monterrey, Santa Catarina, and Linares); and Coahuila (Sabinas). West to Coahuila (Sabinas); central Texas (Nueces, Mason, and Abilene); Oklahoma (Wichita Mountains and Fort Reno); central Kansas (Wichita and Clearwater); and southeastern Nebraska (Superior).
The range of the Carolina wren seems to be extending northward, since there are a number of records of its occurrence north to South Dakota (Yankton County); Minnesota (Bigstone Lake and Minneapolis); Wisconsin (Madison and Ncw London); Michigan (Grand Rapids and Sand Point); southern New Hampshire (Alstead and Rye Beach); and southeastern Maine (Falmouth).
The above outline is for the entire species, which has been divided into four subspecies or geographic races. The Carolina wren (T. l. ludovicianus) ranges south to central Texas, the Gulf States, and northern Florida; the Florida wren (T. l. miamensis) is found in the peninsula of Florida from Levy and Putnam Counties southward; Burleigh's Carolina wren (T. l. burleighi) is found at Cat, Ship, and Horn Islands, Miss.; the Lomita wren (T. l. lomitensis) is found in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. Other races occur in Mexico.
Casual records: The Carolina wren has been observed in Burlington, Vt., from July 10 to October 5, 1936; at Center Ossipee, N. H., on August 21, 1940; one observed on June 21, 1916, at Beaver Pond, Maine; and there is one record of breeding in Maine, eggs taken at Norway Lake in June 1893.
Egg dates: Florida: 44 records, April 1 to June 24; 24 records, April 17 to May 6, indicating the height of the season.
Georgia: 33 records, April 5 to July 3; 17 records, May 2 to June 15.
Pennsylvania: 8 records, April 8 to July 22.
Texas: 39 records, March 13 to July 9; 20 records, April 10 to May 3.
BURLEIGH'S CAROLINA WREN
THRYOTHORUS LUDOVICIANUS BURLEIGHI Lowery
In naming and describing this island race, George H. Lowery, Jr. (1940), says that it is "similar to T. l. ludovicianus (Latham) to which it is most closely related, but differs in being somewhat duller and more sooty above and averaging slightly paler below; color of the pileum not a great deal duller than the back; barring of the tail less distinct than in ludovicianus; size not significantly different from T. l. euronotus but easily distinguished from that race on the basis of its lighter coloration.”
Lowery gives the range of this wren as: "Resident on the islands lying well offshore from the Mississippi Coast; known to occur on Cat Island, Ship Island, and Horn Island. Not improbably it will be found on certain of the islands off the Alabama and Louisiana coast as well."
THRYOTHORUS LUDOVICIANUS MIAMENSIS Ridgway
The Florida wren is a common resident in nearly all the Florida peninsula, all but the northwestern part, or from Levy and Putnam Counties southward, according to the 1931 Check-list. Mr. Lowery (1940) does not subdivide this race but says that it is "typical from Gainesville and Palatka southward."
This is the largest and darkest of all the races. Ridgway (1904) describes it as "most like T. l. berlandieri, but coloration still darker and richer, and size much greater (decidedly larger than any other form of the species); upper parts rich chestnut to dark chestnut, the superciliary stripe decidedly huffy (except in worn summer plumage); under parts (except chin and upper throat) deep clay color or tawny-ochraceous, the flanks tinged with chestnut and (sometimes also the sides) barred with chestnut or dusky."
We found this wren everywhere that we went in Florida in the live-oak and palmetto hammocks, in the swamps, and in dense thickets in the river bottoms, singing more or less all winter and more often heard than seen. We found no nests, but Mr. Howell (1932) says that "the nests are placed on the ground in the woods, often underneath an overhanging bank, in hollow logs or stumps, or sometimes on the sill of an outbuilding, or in a box or can within the building. The breeding season extends from March to July, and two or more broods are raised each season.”
C. J. Maynard (1896) says:
The usual situations chosen by the wrens on Indian River were at the bottoms of the "boots" of the palmettoes. The 'boot" is the base of the dead leaf stalks which adhere to the tree after the top has decayed and fallen off, they are quite broad, slightly concave, and extend upward in an oblique direction leaving a space between them and the trunk; the fronds in falling often cover the top with a fibrous debris which is impervious to water and the cavities beneath form a snug nesting place for the Carolina Wrens. Many more nests will be found in these situations titan elsewhere, especially in the wilderness; but I once found one built between two palmetto leaves which had dropped over in such a position that their surfaces were horizontal and only three or four inches apart, forming a floor as well as a roof for the home of the Wrens. They had conveyed a large amount of suitable material into this place and formed a cozy domicile. The fronds were swayed by every passing breeze, yet In such a manner as not to injure the structure which was between them.
In all other respects the habits of the Florida wren seem to be very similar to those of the northern race.
Eggs: The eggs of the Florida wren are substantially like those of the Carolina wren. The measurements of 40 eggs average 19.0 by 14.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.5 by 14.9, 19.8 by 15.8, 16.3 by 14.9, and 18.0 by 14.2 millimeters.
THRYOTHORUS LUDOVICIANUS LOMITENSIS Sennett
This small, dull-colored subspecies seems to occupy a rather limited range in the lower valley of the Rio Grande, in Texas and in northern Tamaulipas, in Mexico. The map published by Mr. Lowery (1940) shows decided gaps between the range of this race and the ranges of berlandieri, in Mexico, and his new race oberholseri, in southern Texas. He says: "When one views the great areas apparently uninhabited by Carolina wrens bordering the Rio Grande above and below Laredo, the isolation of lomitensis becomes obvious. It thus seems highly improbable that lomitensis comes geographically in contact with other races thereby suggesting a factor which might be responsible for its clear-cut taxonomic characters." In naming this race, George B. Sennett (1890) describes it well as follows:
Compared with T. ludovicianus this race is much lighter in Its general appearance; the color of the back Is also different, ludovicianus being reddish brown or bright cinnamon, while lomitensis is of the chocolate order of browns, fading Into grayish brown during the breeding season. There is also more white on lomitensis than on ludovicianus the barring of the tail is also different. In ludovicianus s the bars of black are wonderfully regular, extending across both webs in a continuous line, while In lomitensis the bars of black are joined by a shading of white or creamy and are broken and irregular, thus giving the general mottled appearance and lighter color. The flanks, too, in all old birds of ludovicianus show a decided tendency to barring, while in ludovicianus this Is wanting. * * *
This new race seems to be resident in that part of the Rio Grande Valley lying adjacent to the river where the forest Is heaviest, for none of the forms of this genus has been taken either above or below this timber tract. Hidalgo, where I first obtained the birds, and Lomita Ranch, where I secured the greatest number, are situated only eIght miles apart on the Texas side of the river. In this locality the heavy timber is near the river, and north of it the chaparral extends for a distance of about fifteen miles; next, still northward, lies a desert of sand reaching more than fifty miles until it meets the strong vegetable growth of the valley of the Nueces River.
Mr. Sennett (1878) had collected a number of these wrens in the above locality some dozen years earlier, which he recorded under the name berlandieri; these specimens were puzzling for a while, until enough of the Mexican race could be obtained for comparison; so it was not until 1890 that this isolated race could be satisfactorily described and named. He says that "this bird breeds near the ground, seldom higher than 5 feet, in hollow trees, stubs, and even dead limbs lying on the ground." He could not discover that it differed in any of its habits from typical Carolina wrens elsewhere. He collected a number of eggs, which were evidently similar to those of the northern bird.
Eggs: The eggs of this wren are indistinguishable from those of other races of the species. The measurements of 40 eggs average 19.2 by 14.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 21.5 by 14.6, 20.5 by ludovicianus by 14.5, and 17.4 by 13.0 millimeters.