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 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 Wrens eat bits of soft fruits native to the area they live in. They also eat a variety of soft berries.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
Try to vary the food you provide for Carolina Wrens, as some may prefer one food source over another. Here are some good choices:
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
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.
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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