Jan 23 2010

How Are The Wrens Doing?

Published by at 7:30 am under Songbirds,Weather & Sky

Shelter chosen by Carolina wren (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)That's the question a lot of PABIRDers asked when the weather broke in mid-January.

True to their name, Carolina wrens are primarily southeastern birds who've expanded their range northward over the years. They're resident now as far north as Ontario but are so sensitive to the cold that their populations plummet in harsh weather.

Pennsylvania birding data shows that Carolina wrens died back in the harsh winters of 1918, 1932-34, 1958, 1977 and 1994.  Earlier this month we had two very cold, snowy weeks with lows in the single digits and at least three inches of continuous snow cover.  Have the Carolina wrens survived?

Marcy Cunkelman's have.  A pair of Carolina wrens claimed her Clarksburg yard as their own and she tells me they've made it through the worst.  I'm sure it's because she provided them with the two things they need most in cold weather: food and shelter.

The food is her homemade peanut butter suet, a recipe she heard on Scott Shalaway's radio program.  As Marcy says, the secret is real lard - no substitutes.  The recipe is variously attributed to Martha Sargent in Alabama and to Julie Zickefoose who published it on her blog.  If you'd like to try it, here it is:
No-melt Suet Recipe ... (also called Zick Dough)
Melt 1 cup of lard and 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter in microwave or kettle.  Stir, then add:
     2 cups of quick cook oats
     2 cups yellow cornmeal
    1 cup of flour
     1/3 cup of sugar
Pour into square containers and freeze.

And what do Marcy's wrens do for shelter?   They use this hanging basket. 

The side of her house and the greenery provide a wind break and the wrens have made home improvements by adding leaves, gray moss and the coconut fibers from Marcy's plant liners.

It's a delicious, cozy territory.  Quite a kingdom for the wrens.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “How Are The Wrens Doing?”

  1. Marge V.on 23 Jan 2010 at 11:38 am

    One of my favorite little birds!! I’ve got lots of photos of one (we had 2 last year, and 2 this year) that was on my front porch railing for quite a while and also have a few pictures of it under my round picnic table w/benches attached looking up all over the underside of the table and benches, probably finding spiders or some other goodies). We have seen it go in and out of a small (4×4 inch square) spot/window right under the roof of my backyard shed. So we are not going into the shed for anything lest we disturb it/them.
    I was told they nest in spring in unusual places, too, such as hanging plants and I’m sure Marcy will probably have them all year now, maybe little ones, too.

  2. Anthony Bledsoeon 23 Jan 2010 at 12:31 pm

    My wife Meg and I live in Forest Hills, just east of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, and we found a dying Carolina Wren right next to our patio two weeks ago. We brought it inside and tried to save it, but within ten minutes, it expired. The culprit, however, was not the cold and the snow pack, at least not directly. Inspection of the bird indicated that some predator, probably a feral cat but also possibly the Cooper’s Hawk that has been around our house, had badly injured its abdomen.

  3. Marcy Con 23 Jan 2010 at 8:10 pm

    A few years back when there was ice, we found a Carolina Wren laying out on the ice and snow, only 5 feet from the barn. It was so sad to see it and so close to shelter. But this was BEFORE they started coming to the feeders near the house….this pair(s) were down in the woods and only in the last 2 years have they been coming to the feeder. So I guess the suet, peanuts and sunflower chips are helping them survive…they have had many broods the last few year also and bringing the family to the feeders. Does this mean the offspring have a stronger gene pool for handling the colder temps? The ones this year weren’t even phased with the bitter winds and snow (over 15 inches). The nest is right outside our front door….at our old place we had a plastic vinegar jug tied on the porch iron railing(a 4 inch square cut out) and they nested and roosted for over 5 years…even when one died, it was still used…we also found a recently made nest down in the shelves under the deck area… again…right where we walk right by…I love listening to them and they must like being around us…

  4. Patsyon 24 Jan 2010 at 8:14 am

    My Carolina Wrens love mealworms. They will come and chatter until I put them out for them.

  5. Mary Ann Pikeon 24 Jan 2010 at 7:51 pm

    We have 2 Carolina Wrens in the South Hills of Pittsburgh that have been coming to our feeders regularly this winter, and they don’t seem to be any worse for the cold. We’re in for another cold week, but hopefully it won’t be as bad as the first 2 weeks of January.

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