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Winter Wren: Troglodyte?

February 1, 2013

Someone had it in for the Winter Wren when they named it Troglodytes hiemalis. Troglodyte? My Oxford dictionary defines a troglodyte as a “cave dweller” or a “willfully ignorant person”. Wrens, in contrast, appear to be perfectly cheerful little birds who, admittedly dwell in the underbrush, but seem perfectly well-versed in the the ways of wrens.

There are some winter hikes where I see very few birds, but I can almost always count on seeing a Winter Wren. These “feisty” little wrens are year round residents and defend a territory even in winter.  They perch right out in the open and “scold” me and my dog briefly before flying back into the underbrush.  The little bird continues its calling while flitting through the branches – burning up calories in the winter cold.  Defending a winter territory must be an important survival strategy – otherwise, why would such a small bird  expend so much energy in winter on territory defence?

A Winter Wren in winter

Come spring, Winter Wrens build nests on the ground,often  in crevices at the bole of trees. Winter Wrens are polygynous, and males may build “dummy nests” in addition to a real nest – maybe to convince the female that he is a great provider?

A Winter Wren in spring

I came across a pair of Winter Wrens feeding green caterpillars to their young this summer. The parents were quite skillful at avoidance behaviour – flitting around and  seldom staying in one spot. This behaviour certainly distracted me and definitely made it harder to see both adults and young.  And difficult to get a good photo!

Winter Wrens eat insects, and spiders and occasionally, berries such as snow berries, and mountain ash berries. There are spiders and insects galore in trees and bushes. A wind that shakes the trees can knock some of them onto the snow and then available to a hungry Winter Wren who is also proficient at finding such food in the bushes.

I have seen a Winter Wren feeding on the remains of a deer carcass dumped in the bush.  Those deer bones were probably quite a feast for that little bird.

Well, troglodyte or not, I certainly appreciate the energy that Winter Wrens can infuse into a grey winter day.

Photos and writing in this blog copyright Joanne  Siderius 2013

  1. Our little House Wrens and Carolina Wrens are industrious and curious. They inspect every inch of our porch rafters for bugs except on the coldest days. The males also make more than one nest to show to prospective mates. This groups is big on scolding 🙂

    On Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 10:34 AM, siderius blog

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