Winter Wren

Troglodytes hiemalis

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2002
  • Sallie J. Hejl, Jennifer A. Holmes, and Donald E. Kroodsma

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Winter Wren.

This species winters locally in small numbers between the dashed lines, and also breeds in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. See text for details.

Adult Winter Wren, NY State, April

Long I., NY; photographer Arthur Morris

Editor’s Note (August 2016): Maps, rich media, and text have been updated to reflect the taxonomic change/split for this species. This species account is being edited and may contain content from an earlier version of the account.

The Winter Wren creeps mouse-like around the forest floor, and among downed logs and viney tangles, singing loudly from favorite perches. A superb songster, and more often heard than seen, this small, brown, cryptically colored wren generally inhabits dark, moist conifer and mixed conifer-hardwood forests.

The Winter Wren was recently split into 3 species, with T. pacificus (Pacific Wren) occurring in coniferous forests of the western U.S. and Canada, and T. troglodytes (Eurasian Wren), being the only wren species found in the Old World (Toews and Irwin 2008). The Winter Wren breeds in the northeastern U.S. and much of southern Canada, and overwinters primarily in the southeastern U.S. Although the 3 wren species are similar in plumage and morphometric traits, T. pacificus and T. hiemalis are genetically and phenotypically distinct in an area of range overlap in western Canada, where they exhibit strong differences in song (Toews and Irwin 2008).

This species is unusual among North American wrens in its association with mature forests during the breeding season. It uses structural elements of old-growth forest (snags, downed logs, and large trees) for nesting, foraging, and roosting. Clearcutting and some types of selective logging should reduce habitat suitability for the Winter Wren, and the species is likely sensitive to forest fragmentation.

Survey-wide population trends generally indicate increasing or stable populations for this forest-interior species. However, given the species' sensitivity to forest management and its associations with complex forest understory structure and rare community types, Winter Wren populations deserve continued monitoring.

Studies conducted on the Winter Wren in North America, include: Toews and Irwin 2008 and Rice et al. 1999b on systematics; Kroodsma 1980 on song; Sabo and Holmes 1983, and Holmes and Robinson 1988 on food habits; Bent 1948b on breeding biology, behavior, and habitat use.

Recommended Citation

Hejl, S. J., J. A. Holmes, and D. E. Kroodsma (2002). Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.