Carolina wren another 'southerner' heading north?

November 23. 2012 6:41PM

The Carolina wren was inquired of by a Manchester reader who wrote in part: "I have started my backyard birds again. I have an unused quarry in my backyard and the variety of birds visiting my feeder is amazing and fascinating.

"This morning I had a Carolina Wren visit. I don't usually see this visitor until February, just about the time that the Audubon Society conducts their annual 'Backyard Winter Survey.' I'm not sure why this little guy is here (Oct. 19). He has been here all summer and hasn't started his migration. Has he come north by mistake 4 months earlier than his usual visit? I am a bit worried about how he'll make it through the winter or will he leave soon? Your thoughts will be greatly appreciated."

Generally speaking, the Carolina wren is the largest member of the wren family in North America. Other than its size its most distinguishing mark is a bold, white stripe above its eye. They are about an inch longer than our fairly common house wren. The Carolina wren is another so-called "southern" bird species, like the northern cardinal and tufted titmouse that, within the recent past, has expanded its range northward and has become a current resident of New England, south to Florida, and west into Texas and Oklahoma. According to NH Audubon, the first Carolina wren breeding record in New Hampshire was in the summer of 1991.

According to Kenn Kaufmann, in his "Field Guide to Birds of North America," published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000, the Carolina Wren (is usually found) "in undergrowth of southeastern woods; these chunky wrens live in pairs in all seasons. Scarcer toward the north, but some reach Canada, though numbers drop off after harsh winters. Pairs move actively in undergrowth and low trees."

In checking the number of Carolina wrens recorded during Audubon's Backyard Winter Bird Survey from 2003-2012, the following numbers were listed: 2003-50; 2005-34; 2005-45; 2006-40; 2007-48; 2008-59; 2009-78; 2010-52; 2011-114; 2012-48.

I believe that the Carolina wren, formerly known as a "southern" non-migratory song bird, can subsist in all but the deepest, cold and snowy winters here in New England.

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A South Acworth reader inquired about behavior of visiting bluebirds in October. The letter read in part: "The last 2 weeks we have had Bluebirds at least 5 times. The first time, October 8, we saw them looking over two of our bluebird houses. Sometimes there is so much fighting but the bluebirds hold their own. I looked up in my journal and October 16, 2008, we had 4 males and 1 female. They went to the birdhouse and we thought they spent the night because we saw them early the next morning. My question is: Do they stop over in birdhouses when they are migrating?"

It has been my experience that the bluebird behavior as described by our reader is absolutely normal for the eastern bluebird. For several consecutive years they nested here in our birdhouses and most years they raised broods of three to five young. From observation it was evident that most years, the first brood assisted in helping the parents feed the second brood. They are a real family on that respect. Each fall Mildred and I looked forward to their soft calls as they returned to check over the birdhouses. This year in early October I was so happy to watch while a family of bluebirds checked out the houses where bluebirds had nested this summer. Whether they were the same birds that nested here or not, or a small flock passing through, I truly can't say.

Withe respect as to whether our reader's bluebirds spent the night in their birdhouse, I don't know. What I do know it that, during harsh weather, bluebird and other species, such as early spring arrivals of tree swallows, will spend cold nights huddled together in a birdhouse for warmth.

Our Acworth reader's letter continued: "We have a wonderful time watching the birds. We have had many of both white-throated sparrows and white-crowned sparrows, along with the other birds that come all the time including 1 male and 2 female cardinals.

"I put out cotton and yard for the birds in the spring and we watch them pull it off the clothes line. The Cedar Waxwings really take a lot. In 2011 when the leaves fell off I had two nests full of cotton. The wind blew one down and it was just full of cotton and red yarn a - very crude. We never saw the Cedar Waxwings after they made their nests. Now that the leaves are gone we have a Cedar Waxwing's nest in our maple trees.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

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