What species of wrens can you find in South Dakota?
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.
7 types of wrens in South Dakota!
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#1. House Wren
The House Wren is common in South Dakota. 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 South Dakota!
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 South Dakota, 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. 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!
#4. 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 South Dakota!
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.
#5. Rock Wren
Rock Wrens are pale brown birds that have a long tail and thin bill. If you look closely, you can small white speckles on their back and wings. Males and females look similar. Behavior-wise, it’s common to see them quickly bobbing up and down.
Rock Wren Range Map
These migratory wrens are found in rocky, arid areas of South Dakota.
Incredibly, Rock Wrens are not known to drink water. Instead, they get all of their moisture from their food, which consists of insects and spiders. They mostly hunt on the ground, probing around and under objects for prey with their thin bill.
Press PLAY above to hear a Rock Wren!
Rock Wrens are prolific singers! They have a large repertoire of songs, which can consist of 100 or more tunes! Interestingly, they can learn new sounds from other individuals. Listen for a mixture of buzzing trills and other musical phrases. When they are not singing, you may hear their common call, which sounds like “tic-keer.”
#6. Canyon Wren
Canyon Wrens are rusty brown birds with black barring that have a long tail and bill. To confirm their presence, look for their bright white throat and upper chest.
Canyon Wren Range Map
These wrens are common in South Dakota in dry, rocky areas. Look for them in places such as canyons, cliffs, boulder piles, and any rocky outcrop. These birds are perfectly adapted for these habitats, and they even have a slightly flattened skull, which helps them probe inside crevices as they look for food.
Canyon Wrens are at home in places without water because these birds don’t need to drink! They get all their moisture from the insects they eat. Even when they are near a water source, they are not seen drinking.
Press PLAY below to hear a Canyon Wren!
These wrens have a lovely song, often described as a series of descending, liquidy notes. These distinctive sounds are often heard echoing through the canyon walls in which they live!
#7. Pacific Wren
Pacific Wrens are most commonly found in coniferous forests, especially those with fir and spruce trees. These wrens are tiny with dark brown, barred upperparts and a light brown eyebrow. The tail is very short and most likely will be held upright.
Interestingly, Pacific Wrens and Winter Wrens were considered the same species until 2010, when scientists determined they were separate species.
Pacific Wren Range Map
Like most species of wrens, they eat insects, arthropods, and spiders. To find their prey, they mainly forage on the ground and along stream banks. Look for them hopping on logs and exposed roots as they are checking crevices and beneath bark for food.
Press PLAY above to hear a Pacific Wren!
The Pacific Wren is probably best known for their incredible singing abilities. Listen for a series of sweet mystical trills and chatters, which typically last between 5 and 10 seconds. They can string together as many as 50 phrases into one song!
What wrens have you seen before in South Dakota?
Leave a comment below!