What Do Carolina Wrens Eat? (Complete Guide)

The Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) has traditionally been considered a southern bird, but in the last century, it has expanded its habitat northward (in some instances are far north as Canada), presumably due to global warming. This northward movement does bring with it some challenges. Because the Carolina Wren does not migrate and remains in its established habitat all year, it must be prepared to survive the harsher winters as it expands into cooler climates. While they are physically able to withstand the colder temperatures as long as they can find adequate food, maintaining, a suitable food supply can be a problem.

So, let's get into it, what do Carolina Wrens eat?

The Carolina Wren's diet consists mostly of insects, spiders and small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and snakes. It also eats seeds, nuts, berries and other vegetable matter. Research conducted by Professor Beal in 1916 revealed that the Carolina Wren's diet consists of roughly 94 percent animal matter and 6 percent vegetable matter. Interestingly, those percentages change according to the season. During the summer months, the Carolina Wren's diet consists of a mere 1 percent plant material and rises to 11 percent in the winter.

Carolina Wren with an insect in its beak

Carolina Wren with an insect in its beak

Common Sources of Animal Matter in the Carolina Wren's Diet:

  • Spiders, including Daddy Longlegs, an apparent delicacy for the Carolina Wren.
  • Caterpillars and Moths
  • Beetles, including bean leaf beetles and cucumber beetles.
  • Ants
  • Bees and Wasps
  • Grasshoppers and Crickets
  • Leaf Hoppers, Cinch Bugs and Soldier Bugs
  • Snails
  • Tree Frogs
  • Lizards
  • Snakes

Common Sources of Vegetable Matter in the Carolina Wren's Diet:

  • Acorns
  • Bayberry Seeds
  • Poison Ivy Seeds
  • Sumac Seeds
  • Fruit or Berries
  • Weed Seeds

What seeds do Carolina Wrens eat?

Carolina Wrens eat seeds from native weeds and flowers, which varies depending on your location and the availability of seeds. They are known to eat bayberry, poison ivy and sumac seeds in the wild.

Carolina Wrens are reported to eat sunflower seeds and may eat other seeds in wild bird seed mixes if it is offered in the winter in feeders and their preferred food is not available.

Carolina Wren eating seeds

Carolina Wren eating seeds

What fruit do Carolina Wrens eat?

Carolina Wrens eat bits of soft fruits native to the area they live in. They also eat a variety of soft berries.

What do baby Carolina Wrens eat?

Both the male and female Carolina Wrens share the duty of bringing food to the hatchlings. This typically consists of small bits of insects, spiders and other bugs. As the babies grow, they bring them larger portions and may bring grasshopper, crickets or caterpillars to the nest. When the fledglings leave the nest, they typically follow their parents for a few days at which time the parents continue to feed the baby birds until they are ready to fend for themselves.

Where Do Carolina Wrens Feed?

Carolina Wrens can be found foraging for food in brushy areas, under trees, on the forest floor and in thorny bushes with dense foliage. They are primarily ground feeders and spend their time hopping from place to place and rummaging through leaf litter with their curved beak to uncover bugs and insects. They also feed in or around old bark on trees, fallen logs and brush piles where they likely seek out spiders and insects.

Carolina Wren foraging in the grass

Carolina Wren foraging in the grass

How Does Winter Pose a Problem for Carolina Wrens?

Carolina Wrens expend a lot of energy with their constant motion and high metabolic rate, which means they need a constant and dependable food supply just to maintain their body temperature and keep from succumbing to the cold.

In the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground, they may not be able to find enough food on their own to sustain themselves. Many spiders and insects die, small vertebrates go into hibernation, and vegetation may be sparse. This all adds stress to the life of a Carolina Wren and maybe more than they can handle on their own. During cold spells, the mortality rate is high.

What do Carolina Wrens eat in winter?

In the Winter, Carolina Wrens forage for available food, such as old berries and fruit. They also take advantage of old seed heads and nuts, such as acorns. The food supply is often limited during the winter months.

Carolina Wren searching for food in the winter

Carolina Wren searching for food in the winter

How can you help Carolina Wrens survive the winter?

Providing a reliable and steady food source for Carolina Wrens increases their winter survival rates. Although there is evidence that the Carolina Wren can, and does, adapt to new food sources, the best way to help out is to provide foods they are known to consume.

Do Carolina Wrens eat from feeders?

Carolina Wrens may visit backyard feeders, especially platform feeders, but they are most comfortable feeding on or near the ground.

If Carolina Wrens shy away from your existing feeders, consider spreading seeds and nuts of the ground under the feeders. Likewise, try hanging suet feeders near shrubs and thorny bushes where the Carolina Wren feels most comfortable.

Carolina Wrens feeding from a bird feeder

Carolina Wrens feeding from a bird feeder

What do you feed Carolina Wrens?

Try to vary the food you provide for Carolina Wrens, as some may prefer one food source over another. Here are some good choices:

  • Sunflower Seeds: The Carolina Wren is reported to eat sunflower seeds, but the best bet is to provide them with sunflower kernels or sunflower hearts as these are a convenient size for the Carolina Wren to eat.
  • Suet: Look for High energy suet that contains both fat and protein. There are many varieties to choose from, from suet filled with fruits and nuts to those flavored with peanut butter or other enticing flavors. Observe the feeders closely to determine which kind of suet your Carolina Wrens prefer.
  • Dried Nuts and Berries: Try an assortment of dried nuts and berries found in songbird seed blends.
  • Peanuts: Carolina Wrens typically love shelled peanuts or peanut hearts. These are packed with protein and fats to give them the energy they need. At least one source claims one peanut provides one-third of a Carolina Wren's metabolic need for an entire day.

Do Carolina Wrens eat mealworms?

Many claim that Carolina Wrens love mealworms and will devour them with a passion. Offering them mealworms at the bird feeder or in a shallow bowl near the ground or near shrubs where they frequent provides them with a good source of protein in the winter.

If your Carolina Wrens are not eating the mealworms you provide, try soaking dried mealworms in warm water before offering them to your Carolina Wrens.

Carolina Wren with worm in beak

Carolina Wren with worm in beak

Other Feeding Tips

Because there are seven subspecies of the Carolina Wren, not every Carolina Wren will have the same food preferences or feeding habits. Each subspecies may make food and behavioral adaptations to suit the area it calls home. This makes it important to explore the feeding preferences of the Carolina Wrens in your area to find what works best for you.

All birds need water to survive and may find it difficult to find in the winter. Providing a heated birdbath is an excellent way to provide your Carolina Wrens with a source of fresh, clean water in the winter.

Interesting Facts About Carolina Wrens

  • The Carolina Wren is a mere 5.5 inches from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail, but it has an amazing 11-inch wingspan.
  • The male and female Carolina Wren look alike. Their body is reddish-brown with orange-brown underparts.
  • The Carolina Wren has a dark, slightly curved beak.
  • It has a long tail that flicks up and down as it forages for food or flits among bushes.
  • The Carolina Wren has black eyes and distinctive white eyebrow stripes.
  • Its face and chin are white or light tan.
  • The Carolina Wren has a life expectancy of 6 years.
  • Carolina Wrens may nest in old plant pots, in abandoned structures or in shrubs near the home.
  • Carolina Wrens are territorial and are aggressive in defending their nests. The breeding pair may chase or peck predators or dive-bomb humans to protect their nests.
  • Carolina Wrens are monogamous and remain with the same mate for several years.

Carolina Wrens can be seen flitting in shrubs and other small bushes or foraging for food under leaves and other litter under trees. They also hop up and down the trunks of trees, searching for insects under the bark or in crevices. They frequent brush piles and often seek out nesting spots near or in abandoned buildings. Because they do not migrate, the same Carolina Wrens will likely remain in your backyard year-round.

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