This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website (www.friendsebec.com) or by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. As a Friends member you can also post your photographs directly to the website! Also consider joining the Friends on the weekend of February 16-19 and participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Details and a Field Guide to the common birds likely to be found in a backyard are on the Friends website.
The Carolina wren is one of my favorite birds. There is a pair that nests somewhere in my neighborhood and they visit my yard and feeders fairly regularly. They are particularly fond of suet in the winter, but will also take sunflower seeds. The Carolina wren is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and can be found in many of our neighborhoods and parks. They are cool and distinctive little birds, with rich brown colors, short wings, a stiff upward pointing tail and a creamy white stripe right above the eyes. They are skulkers, more at ease in thickets and shrubs and tangles than out in the open. They also rarely sit still for more than a few seconds and have a habit of quickly disappearing into thick vegetation the moment they are disturbed. Despite sometimes being hard to see as they lurk in thickets, they can be very easily recognized by their songs and calls. In fact, they are more often heard than seen. Once you learn what they sound like, it will give away their presence and with some patience the birds can usually be tracked down for a look. Carolina wrens will sing throughout the year, even in winter, when most other birds are silent. They also respond to spishing, but unlike many other birds won't tarry too long, just a quick inquisitive look to see what is making the sound and then they are gone.
For many years, I have been collecting old natural history books. Searching through old book shops for some long ago written nature book is one of my great pleasures. While Internet resources are amazing and I am continuously stunned by the vast amount of excellent information available, there is still nothing like an old book to me. I've amassed a pretty significant collection of old natural history books and peruse them frequently, both for professional purposes as an Environmental Consultant and simply for the joy of reading what early naturalists and ecologists had to say about things. Their take on nature and the way they describe things in a less modern world is often fascinating to me. They also run circles around my ability to convey the natural world around me in writing they way they did. So, having said that, as I was looking for information about the Carolina wren I pulled out my somewhat dusty copy of Arthur Cleveland Bent's 1948 Life Histories of North American Nuthatches, Wrens, Thrashers and their Allies. Bent was one of the great American Ornithologists, and I thought I'd let his words describe some life history aspects of the Carolina wren:
"The Carolina wren is one of our great singers, a beautiful singer and a most persistent singer. It is one of the few birds that sing more or less during every month in the year, though it sings most persistently and most enthusiastically during the late winter and spring months; it sings in all kinds of weather, spring sunshine, summer rains, or winter snowstorms; during the height of its song period it may be heard all through the day, from dawn to dusk. It has a varied repertoire; the songs of other birds are often suggested, or perhaps imitated, leading to some confusion at times. But it has a very distinct and characteristic song of its own, which is unmistakable.
"The song is a loud, ringing combination of rich, whistling notes, given with a definite and emphatic swing and a decided accent; it can be heard for a long distance and is so pleasing in its cheering effect that it can hardly pass unnoticed by even the most casual observer. The phrases consist of two to four syllables, usually two or three, and each phrase is repeated two or three times with short intervals between the phrases. Among the 28 references to the song of this bird that I have consulted, I find an almost endless variety of interpretations, expressed in human words or in expressive syllables. I shall select only a few of the best of each which, to my mind, most clearly recall the song. Among the human words, those that please me best are "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle"; others are "sweet heart, sweet heart," "sweet William, sweet William," "come to me, come to me," "Richelieu, Richelieu, Richelieu," "Jew-Pet-er, Jew-Pet-er," "tree- double-tree, double-tree, double-tree," "sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar," "which jailer, which jailer," etc."
"Like others of its tribe, the Carolina wren is the embodiment of tireless energy and activity, seldom still for a moment, as he dodges in and out of the underbrush or creeps over and around a pile of logs, appearing and disappearing with the suddenness of a mouse, diving into one crevice in a wood pile, and popping out of another in some unexpected place. His movements are exceedingly quick and sudden, accompanied by frequent teetering of the body and nervous jerking of the upturned tail, chattering to himself the while, or stopping occasionally to pour out one or two strains of his joyous song, for he is a merry little chap and seems to enjoy his elusive way. We may watch him thus, if we stand quietly, but if we move toward him, he immediately darts into the thickest cover and disappears; it is useless to pursue him, for he has a tantalizing way of keeping out of sight ahead of us and mocking us with his derisive chatter; he is more than a match for us in the game of hide and seek. C. J. Maynard (1896) says: "I have frequently seen these wrens in isolated bushes and, after seeing them vanish, have beat about the place where they disappeared, then through it without starting them, afterwards finding that the wily birds had escaped by running with great rapidity beneath the grass and weeds to the next thicket."
Carolina wrens can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and songs and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/parks. For more information about cardinals visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/carolina_wren/id/ac.