I’ve been visiting the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga near Toronto about once a week this autumn. To my pleased surprise on two visits I met two different types of smaller-than-a-sparrow, stocky brown birds. They were easy to identify in general as Wrens by the way they held their tails stiffly up straight. But they were two different types of Wrens exploring autumn leaves and wildflowers while working their way south.
Winter Wrens First to Arrive in the Fall
Somewhat ironically, the first wrens I saw this autumn were Winter Wrens. Several small flocks of them were moving through the treed part of the Rattray Marsh in early October. They were investigating under leaves on the ground for food, but also working their way up and down stalks of goldenrod and burdock.
These Winter Wrens are very small. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to tell if I was looking at a darting Wren or a wind-flipped leaf. They are fairly dark on the underside, especially near the legs and tail.
They were also noisy! They called each other steadily with a little two-note chip. That helped a bit because the leaves were not calling.
A quick check on AllAboutBirds.org confirmed that they eat mostly insects and spiders. Their short sharp bill suggested that as did the way they ignored the ripe seeds all around them.
According to the Cornell website, these wrens will move south of the Great Lakes for the winter. I haven’t seen them again these last two weeks of October.
Ironically Warmth-Loving Carolina Wrens Arrived Later in the Autumn
Just in time for Hallowe’en a second type of Wren started singing in Mississauga. Unlike the tiny tip-tip’s of the Winter Wren, these birds had a big, rolling call. In fact it was their call that first caught my attention. Then the vivid orangey-yellow underside captured my interest.
These somewhat bigger birds were Carolina Wrens. From a quick glance what was most noticeable was the stiff tail, the thick bright white line through the eye and the buffy orange underside.
Carolina Wrens are not particularly common in Ontario. They don’t nest way up north and move through on their way south like the Winter Wrens. They usually live year-round in one place in their range in the United States. These ones extending the range further north into Canada, though, seem to feel the urge to retreat when the colder weather arrives.
I’ve actually seen Carolina Wrens in Kingston in the winter. They will feed at back yard bird feeders unlike some other birds. Although these wrens love insects, they will also eat some fruit and seed material.
The Cornell University website even credits back yard feeders with some of this Wrens northern range expansion: “Carolina Wren has also profited from a proliferation of backyard bird feeders. This is especially true in northern portions of the bird’s range, where natural food sources can disappear beneath winter snow and ice.”
When Will I See Wrens Again?
I don’t really expect to see any wrens again until spring. But you never know. Marsh Wrens and House Wrens have also been seen around Toronto!
This House Wren Lives in the Great Ontario Wilderness Somewhere
Have any Wrens been flipping leaves in your yard recently? Please share your glimpses of these energetic birds with a comment.