The loud tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle song of the Carolina Wren is familiar across the southeast, but people are usually surprised when they learn that this voice belongs to such a small bird. The Carolina Wren is a rather shy permanent resident that frequents homes and gardens as well as wilder swamps and woodlands that have moderately dense brushy cover. While it will build its nests in natural cavities, it is more likely to nest in a hanging plant than in a birdhouse. Carolina Wrens are found in the Eastern United States southward into northeastern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, but are most common in the Southeastern states.
Description: A small bird with rusty upperparts, cinnamon underparts, and a distinct white eye-stripe. The tail is moderately long, rusty brown with darker barring, and is often held upward. The male and female are identical in plumage, but males are often slightly larger. It has a loud and varied song repertoire and is more likely to be heard than seen.
Weight: 0.74 oz
Voice: The song is a loud ringing, repeated series of notes: tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle. Calls include a chatter likened to teeth rubbing on a metal comb, staccato notes, and scolding churrs. The male and female often duet with the female giving a raspy churr in response to the male tea-kettle song.
- Bewick's Wren has become exceedingly rare in Tennessee. It is overall grayer, without cinnamon underparts, and has a longer tail with black outer-tail feathers tipped in white.
- The House Wren is smaller, duller in color, and lacks the white eye-stripe.
Habitat: Found in a wide range of habitats from swamps to forests and residential areas. Requires moderately dense shrub or brushy cover.
Diet: Insects and spiders.
Nesting and reproduction: Carolina Wrens maintain territories and pair bonds year round. They have a long nesting season in Tennessee lasting from late March into August. Second broods are common and occasionally they will raise a third brood.
Clutch Size: 3 to 7 eggs with 5 eggs most frequent.
Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 14 days.
Fledging: Both adults feed nestlings. The young fledge when 12 to 15 days old and stay with the parents for another couple of weeks.
Nest: Both sexes build the nest, which is usually domed and within 3 to 10 feet of the ground. In natural settings individuals prefer to nest in open cavities, thick shrubs, vine tangles. Around homes and gardens they often build nests in nooks and crannies, unused receptacles, hanging plants, open mailboxes, nest boxes, carports, and garages when the door is left open for extended periods of time.
Status in Tennessee: Common to abundant permanent resident of low-elevation woodlands and wooded suburban areas across the state. Numbers appear to be stable, but will temporarily drop following severe winters.
Dynamic map of Carolina Wren eBird observations in Tennessee
- In the early 1800s, when John James Audubon first described this species, they ranged no further north than Philadelphia. Carolina Wrens now range from the Great Lakes to southern New England. This expansion is likely the result of warmer winters in recent years. However, cold winters with ice and snow can have devastating effects on local populations, but they recover within a few years.
- A pair bond may form between a male and a female any time of the year, and they may stay together for life. Members of a pair are resident on their territory year round, and forage and move around the territory together.
- Females help the males with territorial defense by singing with their mates. When the male gives an aggressive territorial song in response to a neighboring male, his mate will approach and give a chattering call that overlaps the male's song.
- The oldest known Carolina Wren in the wild was 7 years 8 months old.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Found in suburban areas across the state but more easily heard than seen.
For more information:
Haggerty, T. M. and E. S. Morton. 1995. Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), The Birds of North America (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.