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A Carolina Wren in Chicago

I was staring down at my computer in my dining room, working, when I looked out the window and saw this bird:


I got several pictures of it, through the window, before it hopped out of a hole in the trunk where it was hiding, crept up a branch, and flew into someone else’s backyard.


This is the state bird of South Carolina, the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). It is common throughout the southeast, but known to be an occasional visitor as far north as Chicago, into Wisconsin and Minnesota and even Colorado, up to the base of the Rocky Mountains. Since it does not migrate on an annual basis, this one probably lives in the neighborhood.

iNaturalist’s map of amateur sightings gives us a rough idea of how this is a bird on the edge of its range:

Source, accessed 2020-1-8

The Carolina Wren has a long history of being notable to the Chicago area. In a book put out by the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1907, Frank Woodruff’s Birds of the Chicago Area, the author writes that “this interesting songster is gradually adapting itself to our northern Illinois climate.”1 And Woodruff cites other sources yet further back, in 1876 and 1853, who saw the Carolina Wren in Chicago.2

So the Carolina Wren has been in the area for a while. Despite its long-standing presence, it has never achieved large numbers in Chicagoland. Not hardy enough to establish itself, it has nonetheless hung on, through cold and warm years.3 It remains a special guest in Chicago, and when it does visit, the sighting is something to remember.

  1. Woodruff, 181[]
  2. Woodruff, 182[]
  3. Ken Kaufmann writes in his Field Guide to the Birds of North America that the Carolina Wren’s numbers “decline in harsh winters.”[]