When I moved into my summer housing, I noticed right away that the burnt-out lighting sconce by the entryway was stuffed full of debris–leaves, pine needles, twigs. I wondered if some bird had nested there, long ago. When I walked up to the house earlier this evening, though, a bird rocketed out of the alcove and right over my head.
Aha! Not an old nest, then, but a current one! I dragged a chair out to climb up and investigate, but the nest was too high for me to reach, even then. I went out to the porch to restrategize and found a visitor perched on the railing, watching me: a Carolina wren, with a bill full of nesting materials. Upon seeing a human blocking its path, it retreated hastily to a skinny tree opposite the gravel walkway, where it observed until it decided I wasn’t so scary after all and began working on the nest again.
These daring little backyard birds (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are quite the charmers. Carolina wrens are small and brown, with a pale eyebrow stripe as the most distinguishing visual trait. You can recognize some of their sounds easily, too. Males will sing quick, three-note songs in repetition: TEA-kettle, or GER-many.
Hearing that song tipped me off that my new front porch friend was a male. Bird identification is a new skill for me, still very much in the works, so I played a recording of the Carolina wren song back at him, to make sure my ID was right. Front Porch Friend did not care for that. He swooped down to the porch railing at full attention, looking for an intruding male. That’s when I heard one of the species’s most notable calls, a rasping noise louder than you would ever imagine a bird that size could make.
Two wrens in a tree further into the yard started rasping as well. Friend went over and chased one bird off with the assistance of the other. As it turns out, Carolina wrens live in pairs that mate for life. A pair will stake out a permanent territory and do most things together, including foraging, nest building, and defending their home. Just as I’d seen Front Porch Friend and his partner poking around in the leaf litter for a meal side-by-side, they had worked as a team to protect their home from the actual intruder. Fortunately for me, they weren’t interested in chasing off me and my interloper-imitating phone, so I got to watch them a while longer.
You can find these guys in most states east of the Mississippi, so keep an eye and an ear out if your home range overlaps with theirs. These plucky little birds are becoming some of my favorite neighbors. Hopefully you’ll enjoy their company, too.