Baby Carolina Wrens
A Photo Journal by Susan Rose
In July 2006, I discovered a nest of four baby Carolina Wrens in my garage. I keep the small, high-level window open in the summer because of the Georgia heat. Because of that, I've been blessed with hosting these tiny birds. Sadly, this was a very short time because they fly away at only two weeks old. I've posted the daily growth of the baby wrens so you can share in the wonder of God's creation and know what to expect if they nest on your property—usually right under your nose.
Facts About Carolina Wrens: Being the state bird of South Carolina, they are plentiful throughout the southeastern United States. These birds are voracious bug-eaters, so they're helpful to gardeners and farmers. They love suet in the winter, so please see my recipe at the bottom of this page. Carolina Wrens often build their nests in close proximity to humans. During the spring and summer, they may borrow our garages, tool sheds, barns and boat houses to raise their families.
My Photography: I apologize for the low resolution of these Carolina Wren photos. They were all taken with my first digital camera; a 4 megapixel Kodak. Nevertheless, they tell a wonderful story, bringing many viewers to this site during the spring, summer and fall when adult Wrens build nests on porches and in garages. I've been waiting for another nest to be built on a low shelf so I can capture more detail with my new camera. But a few years have passed, and now my garage and attic are nighttime shelter for a feral cat.
DAY 2 . . . First Discovery
DAY 1 . . . Sorry, but I missed the day of hatching
Sunday, July 23 This is my first look at the baby wrens. I'm guessing they're already one day old, so I call this "Day 2."
Sunday, July 23 Another second-day view. I haven't yet mastered focusing my camera on the birds instead of the nest. That's probably best since they're naked. The temperature in my garage is about 95 degrees, so the babies are not cold. Mama was wise to lay her eggs here.
Sunday, July 23 Here's a good perspective of the baby birds' home—a well-built nest sitting inside a spark plug box on a utility shelf. It's not picturesque, but very safe from wind, rain and predators.
Wrens are known for building nests in close proximity to humans—often in barns, tool sheds, garages and boat houses.
The fluffy, white nest material comes from dried thistle pods. I cut them off the plants in early summer so the seeds won't germinate in my yard. I had a box full of these pods setting on the garage floor. They dried and opened into white puff balls, just like dandelions do. Somehow, the adult wrens crumpled these straight fibers into a dense, curly mass—certainly a time-consuming project. They used this on the outside of the nest, but none is on the inside. However, the inner surface is carefully crafted and very smooth.
DAY 3 . . .
Monday, July 24 One of my favorite photos! The babies are helpless, hungry and dependent on their mother. At this point, the slightest sound or vibration causes their tiny mouths to fly open. I don't think they see much yet, so maybe they think I'm their mama.
Monday, July 24 Are the babies laughing? They sure look snug and content. It's so much fun to watch them thrive!
DAY 4 . . .
Tuesday, July 25 Pink skin is being replaced by darker colors—I suspect from little feathers right beneath the surface. The babies have a fine cloud of fuzz growing from their backs.
Tuesday, July 25 Hey, Mama! Don't forget me here on the back row! Look closely, and you'll see a little wing with a row of tiny wing feathers.
Tuesday, July 25 I see beautiful baby birdie bodies!
DAY 5 . . .
Wednesday, July 26 As the babies grow in size, they seem to want more food. The one in front looks very hungry.
Wednesday, July 26 Feathers are filling in on the elbows and on the wings.
Wednesday, July 26 Who can open their mouth the widest?
DAY 6 . . .
Thursday, July 27 Today they are little fuzzy angels, singing in a church choir.
Thursday, July 27 Fill 'er up, Mama! Notice the drops of saliva inside the beaks. According to my research, this fluid is sticky and therefore useful in forming captured bugs into clumps that are easier to swallow than tiny fragments would be. Also notice the tiny barbs that help keep bugs from escaping.
DAY 7 . . .
Friday, July 28 Still salivating and waiting for another fresh bug from Mama.
Friday, July 28 Here we have an explorer! This prompted me to place the nest—spark plug box and all—inside a copy-paper box lid that has three-inch high sides. But while I was finding the box lid, this little bird fell out onto the shelf. I carefully picked it up and placed it back into the nest where it quickly found a good position in the back row, then turned to face the opening. This was a close call. The baby would have died from a four-foot fall to the hard cement floor.
Thank You, Jesus, for keeping this little bird safe.
As for the growth pattern of these feathers, I'm sure there's a purpose.
Friday, July 28 Climbing out again! But this time there's no danger of falling to the floor because of the box-lid walls. And after I took this picture, a behavior change began. The babies are now scooting backward, deeper into the nest, whenever I come near. Their vision is probably sharper now, and they see that I'm not their mama. Their instinct to hide in leafy shadows must also be developing.
DAY 8 . . .
Saturday, July 29 If the babies were a day old when I first found them, then they're one week old today! It's Saturday—time for sleeping late. No, not really. They're always wide awake whenever a bug appears. Mom and Dad don't take many breaks. They usually bring soft-bodied, green, leggy bugs. I'm sure they know what is best for little tummies. Now look at the dainty pink feet. And see the auburn feathers sprouting on their backs.
Saturday, July 29 Since I rearranged the babies' home and removed some items from their shelf, the morning sun was hitting them directly when it shone through the narrow windows across the top of the garage door. I set up a box to block the rays, but first I took this photo. I see lots of feathers and fuzz and chin whiskers. How fast the babies are growing!
DAY 9 . . .
Sunday, July 30 The babies are getting smart. Their mouths no longer pop open when they hear me coming. They seem to be practicing camouflage survival techniques. Don't blink, don't move...and keep your mouth shut. They all look very serious. Feathers are growing under the skin on those last pink patches. Soon the babies will be fully clothed.
Sunday, July 30 Finally, a long-awaited photo of "Mama" with a fine green bug in her mouth! She's watching me, and if I don't leave the garage immediately, she will eat the bug herself and fly away.
Of course, this could be "Dad," but to keep it simple, from here on I will refer to the parent as "Mama."
DAY 10 . . .
Monday, July 31 Look at the beautiful wings! Again, the babies are hiding from me. With heads ducked low and mouths mostly closed, they blend into their surroundings.
The little wings are spread, as if to cover and protect each other. How very sweet!
Monday, July 31 Here is the "box within a box." The babies are safe for a while. And look—they're peeking out at me with big dark eyes.
Monday, July 31 My persistence pays off! The babies are tired of their camouflage game. Their desire to be out where there's plenty of room must have outweighed their need to hide. With intelligence rising daily, maybe they sense that I'm a friend. I think I see a little birdie tail.
In retrospect What was I thinking? These baby birds were very scared of me and were "hiding" by being still.
Monday, July 31 This little sweetie didn't move at all when the flash went off. Wonderful! Maybe I'll get some good shots of them scooting around. I'm amazed at how fast these birds are growing—and how beautiful they are.
DAY 11 . . .
Tuesday, August 1 Early this morning, Mama Wren was on my backyard deck rail, loudly chirping and jumping around. I think she's bragging about her four exceptional children.
In retrospect I believe Mama Wren was calling the babies to leave their nest.
Tuesday, August 1 Free at last! Nine days ago these birds were little pink blobs. Today they're flying around my garage! Just little baby flights, of course, but they're really flying. They flew from their four-foot-high shelf to the floor. They've been zooming all over the place, trying out their wings.
This birdie is sitting inside the rolled metal gutter at the bottom of the garage door.
I only saw two of the babies, but there are many places for them to hide. I've been out to check on them three times this evening, for only a minute or two. On one occasion, Mama bird really scolded me hard, demanding that I leave—and I did.
DAY 12 . . .
Wednesday, August 2 Free at last! Nine days ago these birds were little pink blobs. Today they're flying around my garage! Just little baby flights, of course, but they're really flying. They flew from their four-foot-high shelf to the floor. They've been zooming all over the place, trying out their wings. At this rate, they'll be out the window tomorrow.
I've included this blurry photo because it shows some very long legs and a stubby little tail.
For now, I'm glad the babies are inside, safe from any predators. By the time they fly up to the open window, they'll be more ready for the world.
Wednesday, August 2 Flying high! This window is at the top of the garage door, so the babies have mastered flying upwards. Their feet can cling to almost anything. I've seen the mother bird holding onto the bare brick walls of my house.
Wednesday, August 2 Here's more proof that the babies can fly out the open window whenever they want! This box is almost at the ceiling. I'm glad I resisted suggestions to open the garage door and let the babies out. Above all, they need to be safe. I have a feeling they will all be gone in a day or two.
Wednesday, August 2 What a face! The natural outdoor light reveals the exquisite beauty of this little bird. Two of them have now flown outside. This little wren is perched on the electric meter box, right beside the garage window, doing its best to hide from me and my camera.
DAY 13 . . .
Thursday, August 3 The two babies still in the garage don't show signs of wanting to leave. They chirp loudly for their mama, but I haven't seen her in two days. I know she's nearby with the other two siblings. I'm praying that she remembers she has four children to feed for the next couple weeks until they learn to catch their own bugs. Mama bird is probably coming to the garage, but I'm not seeing her.
DAY 14 . . .
Friday, August 4 A bright new day begins for the baby wrens! All four have left the dark garage—only 14 days after they hatched. I know they'll remain in the area, at least until they're mature. I'll be watching for them and trying to get a few more photos.
DAY 23 . . .
Sunday, August 13 I think the four little wrens are living in the Live Oak tree near the eastern edge of my yard (top right of this photo). I see adult wrens perched on the edge of my roof and clinging to the corner brick. They're watching for bugs that feed on my flowering shrubs. When they fly away, it's usually toward this particular oak.
Sunday, August 13 A fledgling visits! I heard the song of this bird, so I grabbed my camera. The fledglings are slightly smaller than their parents, with a generally scruffy appearance. Their grooming skills may take a while to develop, but this three-week-old bird sounds just like an adult. Its song is loud, melodic and full of excitement.
Sunday, August 13 The parents are teaching their young offspring to catch bugs by lurking within the bushes around my house. This cutie-pie is preening during a break.
The fledglings are healthy and flying, just as God intended. Their freedom makes me smile.
The special nest-in-a-sparkplug-box is on a shelf in my office. I can't imagine ever throwing it away.
WINTER SUET RECIPE:
This recipe helps insect-eating birds like Carolina Wrens during the long, bugless winters.
¾ cup natural peanut butter (can be replaced with meat fat, but don’t use
½ cup corn meal (more if needed for firmness in warmer temperatures)
Add raisins, chopped apples and other firm fruit.
Stir all ingredients together. Pack into a square mold to shape it (cool in refrigerator if using meat fat), then remove and place into a suet cage for hanging.
Always use fresh, natural ingredients. Some birds will eat almost anything, but that doesn't mean it's good for them.
This recipe can also be packed into pine cones to hang in trees or even spread in globs onto tree branches, but the suet cages prevent theft by squirrels. Be sure to hang suet cages higher than foxes or dogs can jump.