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Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © J. Pavesi

Know Your Neighbors: Wrens

Have you had little brown birds nesting in your flower pots, your garage, or your nest boxes and didn’t know what they were? The wrens are often found nesting near people, and some folks may confuse their new neighbor for another wren species, or an altogether unrelated species. Here, we help clear up these “little brown jobs” so you can know your neighbors a little better.

Carolina Wren vs Bewick’s Wren
Both the Carolina and the Bewick’s Wren have a white stripe above the eye and are about the same size. While the Carolina Wren is an eastern bird and the Bewick’s has a more western distribution, their ranges do overlap in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In these states, look for a warm buffy belly on Carolinas and a pale grayish belly on the Bewick’s. The Carolina Wren also tends to be more reddish overall and does not flick its tail up and sideways like the Bewick’s Wren consistently does.

House Wren vs Winter Wren
These small plain wrens may look and sound alike, but you can distinguish them rather easily. The Winter Wren is our smallest wren, and is darker than the House Wren. Winters also give the impression of having just a short stub of a tail, held high, and a slightly more pronounced stripe above the eye. House Wrens are ubiquitous throughout most of the U.S. (the third most common bird reported to NestWatch in 2013!), whereas Winter Wrens typically breed only in Pacific Coast states, the Appalachians, and the far northeastern states (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). For most of us, Winter Wrens are usually just seen, you guessed it, in the winter.

While you certainly may find other species of wrens nesting in your yard, like the Cactus Wren or the Rock Wren, you will usually be able to distinguish these wrens by their unique habitat and plumage. Other lookalikes, like the Wrentit, Brown Creeper, and Bushtit, are superficially similar but unrelated to wrens. The next time you think you might have a wren nest, use our All About Birds page to browse the wren family, Troglodytidae (meaning “cave-dweller”), and compare songs, nesting habits, and range maps.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology