Winter wren. Paul Stein


A frantic burst of bird song came from the tree line. The song jingled and twittered up and down the musical scale. I could picture the frantic singing from a spark plug of a bird known as the Winter Wren. (Photo by Paul Stein).

This small bird is heard more often than seen. Its cryptic brown coloration and small size make it hard to locate. It hops and takes short flights in and among the tangle of roots, leaves and ground cover in mature, mixed coniferous and hardwood forest floors. It prefers nesting close to water and seems to require downed trees. I watch for them in and around upended roots of large trees. Winter Wrens poke and turn leaves and small branches looking for spiders, beetles, other insects and their larvae, which is their primary food.

The last one I saw was hiking the Albany Mountain Trail. I was picking my way across a beaver damn that had flooded the original trail. The expanding pond had uprooted a large white pine. The roots held a massive fan of dirt. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought it was a chipmunk dashing in and out of the tangled root mass.

Suddenly a dark, brown bird darted to the top most root jutting three feet above the rest. There it tilted its head back, thrust out its chest and exploded into song. It was an eruption of twittering notes disproportionate to its size and dull appearance. It stayed long enough for four more song bursts, then hopped down the root before disappearing back into the tangle below.

We have two other wrens which can be found in our area, the House Wren, which can be confused with the Winter Wren. The Carolina Wren has been slowly moving north and can also be found in our area. The Winter Wren is noticeably smaller than both of its cousins. Its tail is much shorter and it’s a duskier brown overall. Its song, however, will never be confused with our other wrens.

Winter Wrens can be found, or more often heard, at Valentine Farm. Watch and listen along the eroded bank above the stream.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn more visit To contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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