Wren in the Shrub

photo of a Carolina Wren singingSometimes a little miracle arrives when least expected. While laying in bed this morning half-asleep at around 7am, a Carolina Wren suddenly began singing from a shrub right outside my window, but his performance was not typical by any means. So I roused myself, snatched my iPhone from the bedside table, opened my sound recorder app, and excitedly hit the record button, holding my iPhone against the window screen. In spite of fan noise and other electronic interference, I somehow managed to get a shareable recording of his unusual singing behavior:

Carolina Wren singing from a shrub outside my window. 7am, July 2, 2012, near Ithaca, NY.

Wow! The little guy sings song after song, switching each time to a new pattern and throwing in a number of odd variations. What is going on here? Well, it’s July 2nd, and I imagine that young wrens were fledged perhaps two or three weeks ago. So is this a young male learning to sing, rambling through his newly-acquired song repertoire which he has learned from adult males in his neighborhood?

Uncertain that my interpretation was correct, I immediately sent the recording to bird song expert Gene Morton, retired Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Gene studied Carolina Wren vocal behavior in great detail, and I thought surely he would be able to shed light on this singing episode. Within an hour, I received his response:

“Yeah, it’s a young male rehearsing his song repertoire. They begin to practice about one week after fledging but at first put in lots of appeasement pizeet calls because they are still with mom and dad, but they start singing this good when about to strike out on their own. You can hear some quavering in some of the songs, typical of a practicing kid. Sounds like this one has experienced lots of songs, so there must be a good population to draw from. Since this one wasn’t giving pizeets, he must be independent and striking out on his own. Good luck to ’em!”

So there you have it, a young male practicing his repertoire and boldly striking out on his own! Good luck to ’em for sure!

Now I think this is really fun stuff … the nitty gritty of song development and a glimpse into the life of a young male transitioning into adulthood. I feel so very lucky to have witnessed this special “rite of passage.” Lucky too that he was singing so loudly from the shrub outside my window. Otherwise, I would have remained half-asleep and lost his songs to a dream.


  1. It indeed does sound much different than an adult Carolina Wren. I live next to a breeding population of them here in Michigan and I’ve never heard something like this. Some of its songs are kind of off balance, like the song won’t stay in the same pitch, the first few notes will be slightly lower than the next few notes in the second half of the song.

  2. We have mockingbird fledglings each year and they have no repertoire at all. I always wonder how they learn to sing. Interesting that the Carolina Wrens pick up the songs so fast because our Mockingbirds sure don’t.

  3. This is very cool — I have Carolina Wrens that come and sing near my window each morning, but never realized that the fledglings had to “practice” singing — that thought just never occurred to me — now I’ll be listening more closely! Thanks for taking the time to post!

  4. Wow, what a fantastic sound to wake to! I love Carolina wrens; we don’t have many around here. I heard one for the first time this spring, and unsure what it was, the operator of another nature site helped me out. That certainly was an exquisit glimpse into the young male’s song repertoire!

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