Carolina Wren – Alarm Calls

We have a pair of Carolina Wrens nesting in a gutter next to our porch overhang. Quite often, the male sits on the nearby limb of an oak and sings his heart out. So today I decided to videotape his singing performance.

I set up my tripod and camera and within a minute or two he showed up, giving one song from a very nice-looking perch, and then flying to another. He then commenced to sing, but was interrupted when our cat Sangmu came out on the porch, meowing for some attention from me. As soon as the wren caught sight of him, he stopped singing and began giving two types of alarm calls … brief descending “cheers” and harsh “rattles.”

The “cheer” is given only by the male and is thought to signify alarm. I’ve heard “cheers” given in the presence of both aerial predators and ground predators, both near the nest and away from the nest. The “rattle” is given by both sexes, almost always when there is a disturbance near the nest.

Carolina Wrens have a number of other calls, some being soft and subtle, but these are the species’ two most prominent alarm calls. I am fortunate to have documented them being given in response to our little white cat.

Disclaimer: We generally do not allow Sangmu to be on the porch, for fear he might catch a bird. But in my rush to videotape the wrens, I accidentally left the door open.

Video Metadata
Carolina Wren - Alarm Calls Near Nest
Carolina Wren - Alarm Calls Near Nest

While videotaping a singing male Carolina Wren from our front porch, our cat showed up (giving meows) and the male responded with two different kinds of alarm calls ... brief descending "cheers" and harsh "rattles." Video and sound © Lang Elliott,


  1. Great close up, Lang! I always hear this call in the woods and wondered what it was! I wanted to pick off the cobweb thingy in its bill.

  2. Excellent footage, Lang! My yard has been blessed by the year-round presence of these little sprites. I often awake to one singing outside of my window.

    Last week after feeding all of my critters, I went back into my bedroom to get dressed for work and found that a Carolina wren had flown in through an open window and was flitting about. It kept trying to escape out of a window which was screened, so I dropped the screen and he flew out unharmed. Fortunately my cat was not in the room, things could have gotten ugly.

  3. How wonderful to watch him up close like this! And as far as calls, am I correct that Sangmu’s mews seem to move from plaintive to insistent? I think you owe this cat some treats for his role in making the video!

  4. Lang, that trill call he is doing after the chatter (and the cat meow) I have heard them do just before roosting… just saying. Keep up your wonderful work!

    • That doesn’t surprise me. The trill (I call it “cheer”) of the male might very well have multiple functions. A lot of birds give what we might usually consider to be an alarm call before going to roost for the night. The Wood Thrush comes to mind … they often give very excited wit-series calls at dusk and usually that call indicates alarm or concern. Biologists do a lot of guessing about such things, and underlying motivations are often very difficult to discern.

      p.s. I’m not an expert on the Carolina Wren by any means, but my friend Gene Morton studied their repertoire in detail many years ago. I believe he wrote he Birds of North America Online monograph describing the species … that series is available through the Lab or Ornithology. I wish I had a copy handy so as to bone up on the cheer call of the male and what he thought it signified.

      • Pete Bacinski once described the trill call to me as the sound of someone running their thumb down the teeth of a plastic pocket comb. Different mnemonics for different folks, but that one has always worked for me.

      • Thanks Lang, I am not an expert either. but they are just FUN birds.. shared your link with a new birder in PA when she sent me a question about wrens. I know ou helped her (and me) with their song(s) keep up your wonderful work my friend! and I thank you for it always! hugz

  5. Notice how he suddenly rotates to the side each time he gives a “cheer” call, such that he turns right, then left, then right, then left … and so forth … as he gives the calls.

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