The 5 Wren Species in Iowa! (ID Guide)
What species of wrens can you find in Iowa?
Wrens are incredible birds and they inhabit many different habitats. Even though they are small, wrens are incredibly bold and don’t back down to other species that are much larger than them.
If you encounter one, you can expect to hear loud and complex songs. Once you know what to listen for, it’s easy to identify these birds before ever seeing them! And don’t worry, I have included a sample of the calls and sounds for each species below.
Below are the 5 types of wrens that live in Iowa!
- *RELATED: Watch the LIVE bird feeder and animal cameras in MY backyard* (You may get lucky and see a wren feeding on my cams RIGHT NOW!)
#1. House Wren
The House Wren is common in Iowa. Even though they almost never visit bird feeders, they are often seen zipping through backyards while hunting insects. A great way to draw these wrens to your yard is to create brush piles, which offer cover for them and places for insects to gather.
Appearance-wise, House Wrens are small, brown birds. They have a short tail, thin bill, and dark barring on their wings and tail. Both males and females look the same.
House Wren Range Map
House Wrens are commonly encountered by people when their nests are found in odd places. For example, when I was a kid, I remember we found a nest in a clothespin bag hanging outside. Before my mom could access her clothespins, she had to wait until the wrens had raised their young and abandoned the twig nest! Other weird spots for nests include boots, cans, or boxes.
To attract House Wrens to your backyard, try hanging a nest box, as these birds will readily use them to raise their young. Please pay attention to the entrance hole’s diameter and try not to make it any larger than 1 inch in diameter. By keeping the hole small, other birds can’t get inside to disturb the wren’s nest and babies. Interestingly, House Wrens are one of the only birds that will use a nest box hanging freely and not permanently attached to a tree or post.
House Wrens fight incredibly hard for the nest cavities they want. It’s common for them to peck at much larger birds. And if they really want a particular nesting location, they are even known to drag eggs or babies out so that they can move in.
Listen for House Wrens in Iowa!
Press PLAY above to hear a House Wren!
One of the best ways to locate a House Wren is to listen for their distinctive song. The best way to describe it is a beautiful, energetic flutelike melody, consisting of very rapid squeaky chatters and rattles.
Lastly, make sure to read this interesting fact!
One problem that House Wrens have is that their nesting cavities can become infested with mites and other parasites, which can harm wren hatchlings. To combat this problem, spider egg sacs are brought into the nest by the parents. Once the baby spiders hatch, they feast on the parasites located in the nests, helping save the baby birds.
#2. Marsh Wren
Even though Marsh Wrens are common in Iowa, they are not seen often by people. These birds live secret lives under cover of reeds in hard to reach places in marshes and swamps (as the name suggests).
Marsh Wrens have a round body with a short tail that is often pointing upwards. Look for a small bird that is rusty brown with black and white streaks down its back and a pale eyebrow. They are often seen clinging to reeds, with each foot grasping on to a different stalk!
Marsh Wren Range Map
Even though Marsh Wrens are tiny, they are incredibly fierce, aggressive, and active. Males typically mate with more than one female and build multiple nests for each female. They are even known to pierce eggs and kill nestlings of both Marsh Wrens and other birds.
Marsh Wrens are accomplished singers. (Press PLAY below)
These birds are hard to spot in the dense reeds in the habitats in which they live. You probably will have much better luck listening for them. Their songs typically consist of several introductory notes, then a trill of repeated syllables, and then a few concluding notes. The whole series of gurgling and buzzy trills only lasts a second or two, but they can repeat this and carry on for a LONG time.
Marsh Wrens are most vocal in the morning and just before sunset, so make sure to head out at these times if you want the best chance of observing one. Also, I have had good luck seeing these birds at parks or wildlife refuges that have an elevated boardwalk through the marsh, which helps greatly with visibility!
#3. Carolina Wren
This wren species is a colorful reddish-brown with a distinct white throat and eye line. The edges of their wings and tails are darkly barred, and the bill is long and thin. Both males and females appear similar.
Carolina Wren Range Map
Even though Carolina Wrens are common in Iowa, these secretive birds can be hard to see. Look for them in shrubby and bushy areas that provide lots of hiding places.
One of the BEST ways to observe Carolina Wrens is by attracting them to your feeders.
Watch a Carolina Wren sampling many foods in my backyard!
Carolina Wrens are the most common wren that visits feeding stations. Look for these birds eating at your feeders in the cold, winter months. I see them feasting on suet the most, but they also eat peanuts, shelled sunflower seeds, and mealworms. Carolina Wrens rarely visit bird feeders during the summer since there are plenty of insects around for them to eat.
Carolina Wrens are often heard before being seen!
Their song, which is only sung by males, is usually three-parted and sounds like they are saying “tea-kettle tea-kettle tea-kettle.“ These birds are impressive singers, and individuals can make many variations of this song, so you never know exactly what you will hear.
Carolina Wrens are incredibly dedicated partners. Once a male and female find one another, the bond is typically for life. The pair will stay with each other in their territory year-round and even forage and move around together.
#4. Winter Wren
Winter Wrens are plump round balls of energy! These small birds are brown overall with a short tail and a pale whitish eyebrow.
Winter Wren Range Map
These birds are most often found near streams in evergreen forests. They prefer habitats with lots of places to hide, such as places with dense understories and lots of fallen trees.
Winter Wrens are best known for their incredible songs!
Press PLAY above to hear a Winter Wren!
During the breeding season, males sing a cascading, rapid series of musical trills and chatters. This song typically lasts between 5 – 10 seconds and is sung from somewhere high.
Males have a habit of building multiple nests inside their territory. Once they have the attention of a female wren, they will lead her around to each of the locations to see which one she likes best!
#5. Sedge Wren
These smaller wrens are brownish with white streaks across their back and a pale brown eyebrow. Sedge Wrens look similar to Marsh Wrens and are difficult for most birders to tell apart at first glance. Look for Sedge Wrens to be smaller, lighter, and less brown overall.
Sedge Wrens are incredibly difficult to find in Iowa!
Sedge Wren Range Map
First, these birds live in habitats that are hard to access, such as dense marshes and grasslands, which feature tall grasses and sedges.
Second, Sedge Wrens are incredibly nomadic! They can be present in high numbers in a certain location one year and then suddenly vanish the next.
And even if you do spot one of these wrens, it probably won’t be for long. They have a habit of flying out of their hiding spot as you approach, only to quickly drop into another dense area nearby, completely out of sight again.
Press PLAY below to hear a Sedge Wren!
Because of their secretive nature, the BEST way to locate one is to keep your ears open. Listen for a song that starts with 3 or 4 chips, followed by a series of trills.
What wrens have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a comment below!