Thryothorus ludovicianus ludovicianus

Status:  Common regular resident southeast.  Rare regular summer and winter visitor north and west of resident range.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM11643, 27 Dec 1911 Rulo, Richardson Co.

Taxonomy: Ten or eleven subspecies are generally recognized (Pyle 1997, Gill and Donsker 2017, Clements et al 2016); of six that occur entirely north of Mexico, ludovicianus is found over most of the eastern US range. Nebraska birds are ludovicianus (Phillips 1986, Rapp et al 1958).

Resident: Carolina Wren is at the northwest edge of its breeding range in southeast Nebraska, and because of its sensitivity to cold weather, the extent of its year-round distribution in the state has varied considerably over the years. Around 1900, Carolina Wren was rare in Nebraska; Bruner et al (1904) cited only three records, two older reports in Richardson Co and one in Lancaster Co, the latter a specimen collected 20 Feb 1902 by Wolcott (1902), who suggested it was “probably a rare resident in the extreme southeastern part of the state”. By the 1950s, however, the species was occupying a summer range not unlike the current (2017) range in the southeast (Rapp et al 1958), but with only these reports of nesting since Bruner et al (1904) and prior to winter 1976-1977: one from Nuckolls Co in the early 1930s (Johnston 1934, Ducey 1988), and young seen 13 Jul 1965 in Adams Co (Bennett 1967).

Data from states at the range periphery indicate that summer and fall dispersal, coupled with ability to survive the subsequent winter, is the probable method by which the species expands its range (for example, Thompson et al 2011). Several additional summer reports in the south, westward to Lincoln and Perkins Cos, prior to winter 1976-1977, were probably of summer-fall dispersers, including a specimen, HMM 2894, collected at Inland, Clay Co 6 May 1923.

The best known major weather event affecting Nebraska Carolina Wrens was the severe winter of 1976-1977. During the five subsequent years, reports were few and restricted mostly to summer months; none were reported on CBCs for five years. There followed a gradual recovery; the breeding range extended north to Dakota, Dixon, and Knox (Grzybowski 1992) Cos, and west to Lancaster (Williams 1976), Clay (Silcock 1995), and Harlan Cos. There was also an undocumented breeding record for Cherry Co in the period 1984-89 (Mollhoff 2001). In the south, a small number became established at Harlan Co Reservoir in 1998, and one was singing at McCook, Red Willow Co 21 Jul 2005. At the McCook location, breeding was confirmed with one of two pairs at McCook carrying nest material 1 May 2006. Reports at McCook persisted through at least 2009. It was established at Wilderness Park, Lincoln, in the late 1990s and is still extant there, although the severe winter of 2000-2001 apparently impacted both this and the Harlan Co populations; none were noted at either location in 2001 until Aug, when birds re-appeared at both locations; it is possible these populations departed and returned after the winter rather than simply perishing.  Two wintered in Hastings, Adams Co 2015-2016 but left on 2 May when House Wrens arrived.

The winter of 2009-2010 was colder than average, and early winter storms generated deep snow cover that was present during the entire season over much of the state.  This likely caused high Carolina Wren mortality; many observers noted that individuals in their yards survived into Jan or Feb but then disappeared; a rough estimate from observer comments suggests that at least 50% of the resident birds did not survive the winter, either dying or withdrawing southward. Small numbers present at isolated locations were wiped out; this included cities such as McCook, where the species has not been observed since 2009. Feeders likely increased survival in localized areas.  Following the winter, Carolina Wren began to slowly reoccupy formerly inhabited sites.  First reports from prior haunts in spring 2010 were 3 Apr-21 May at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co and 21 Apr at Platte River SP, Cass Co. Later in the summer and fall of 2010 reports continued to increase.

From 2010 to the present the summer range has slowly expanded to the north and west, as mapped. A pair nested at Gothenburg, Dawson Co 6 Jun 2014. However another severe winter 2018-2019 reduced numbers significantly in the Douglas Co area, although birds lucky enough to find feeders in the city were able to survive (Rick Schmid and Jerry Toll, pers. comm.).

There was an amazing number of extralimital reports by multiple observers in fall 2019, generally separated into three areas of the state: the southwest, with nine reports involving at least three birds were from three locations in Red Willow and Chase Cos 12-14 Sep, the central Platte River Valley, four reports involving five birds in Hall Co 8 Aug-19 Oct, and in the northeast, eight reports involving six birds from six locations in Knox, Dixon, Wayne, and Burt Cos. The following spring reflected some of these dispersals; there were six reports involving six birds in the Platte River Valley from Platte Co to Buffalo Co 3-31 May, and in the northeast there were reports 3-27 May from Cedar, Cuming, and Madison Cos.

Again in fall 2020 a similar dispersal occurred; westerly, 1-2 were reported in Keith, Lincoln, Hitchcock, and Dawson Cos 9 Aug-25 Nov, and northerly, 1-2 were at seven sites in Knox and Cedar Cos 8 Aug-28 Oct and singles were in northern Dixon Co 8 Aug and in southwestern Dixon Co 24 Sep, the observer’s “2nd ever” there, Madison Co 24 Sep, and Wayne Co 14 Oct.

  • Breeding phenology:
    Nest building: 11 Mar-6 Aug
    Eggs: 28 Mar-27 Aug
    Nestlings: 28 Apr-12 May
    Fledglings: 5 May-26 Aug

Adults with three young were building a second nest at Bellevue 6 Jun.

  • High counts: 10 at Fontenelle Forest 1 Apr 2017, 9 there 1 May 2018, 8 in Otoe Co 2 Sep 2013, and 8 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 25 Sep 2020.

SummerMost reports in spring, summer, and fall north and west of the resident breeding range are of dispersing birds, an important component of this species’ range expansion behavior. Recent reports for spring are in the area bounded by Dixon, Platte, Hall, Buffalo, and Franklin Cos, but during the period 2009-2014, probable and confirmed breeding occurred north and west only to Douglas, Lancaster, and Thayer Cos (Mollhoff 2016).

Since the winter of 1976-1977, there have been numerous summer reports north and west of the current (2018) breeding range. Furthest north and west of these, arranged from north to south, are 4 Jul 2017 Knox Co, 24-28 Nov 2012 first county record for Antelope Co, 5 Sep 2014 and 1 Jul 2018 Holt Co, 16 Mar 2015 Norden Bridge, Brown Co, 15 Sep 2018 Rock Co, 21 Apr 2017 Valentine NWR, Cherry Co, 6 Jul 2014 Fort Niobrara SP, Cherry Co, fall 2012 Garfield Co, 16 Jul 2018 Loup Co, 3 Jul 2015 Blaine Co, 6 Aug 2000, 27 May 2016, and 1 Jul 2020 Lake McConaughy, Keith Co, 18 Aug 2009 Chase Co, and 14 May Hayes Co. In 2018 there were six reports in the Kearney, Buffalo Co area, all of singles, 12 Aug-16 Sep. The only Panhandle record is of one at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 14 Jul 2019.

Winter: This species is sedentary within its breeding range. Winter temperatures are a primary determinant of the northern edge of the range of this species (Mehlman 1997, Haggerty and Morton 2020), probably because cold temperatures reduce ground-based prey, and so the winter range limits may thus be directly associated with food supply and indirectly with temperature (Job and Bednekoff 2011, Haggerty and Morton 2020). Data from states at the range periphery indicate that spring dispersal, coupled with ability to survive the subsequent winter, is the probable method by which the species expands its range.

There are numerous winter (late Dec-Feb) reports north and west of the current (2018) breeding range; furthest north and west are singles 1 Jan 2021 and 13 Feb 2018 Cedar Co, 24 Dec 1993 first local winter record Dakota Co, 31 Dec 2020 Thurston Co, 29 Oct 1994 and 9 Feb 2021 Madison Co, a bird which remained through the winter at a Cuming Co feeder (Brogie 1997, Silcock and Rosche 1994), 10 Jan 2006 eastern Niobrara River Valley, 13 Jan 2021 Wayne Co, 20 Jan 2019 Bassett, Rock Co, 19 Feb near Indianola, Red Willow Co. In addition there are several reports from Lincoln Co: one was at a feeder in a cedar canyon 14 Nov- 14 Dec 2019, 14 Dec 2008- 3 Jan 2009 at a North Platte feeder, 29 Dec 2020 North Platte, one photographed 3 Jan 2011 at the Sutherland exit off I-80, one near Brady 15 Feb 2020, and two wintered at North Platte through 23 Mar 2006.

The state CBC high was 48 at Omaha 15 Dec 2012.


HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum


Photograph (top) of a Carolina Wren at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 10 Apr 2014 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Bennett, E.V. 1967. 1967 Nebraska nesting survey. NBR 36: 35-42.

Brogie, M.A. 1997. 1996 (Eighth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 65: 115-126.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, accessed 30 January 2018.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1992. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 46: 1151-1152.

Haggerty, T.M. and E.S. Morton. 2020. Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Job, J., and P.A. Bednekoff. 2011. Wrens on the edge: Feeders predict Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus abundance at the northern edge of their range. Journal of Avian Biology 42: 16-21.

Johnston, H.C. 1934. The Eastern Carolina Wren again nests at Superior in 1934. NBR 2: 62.

Mehlman, D.W. 1997. Change in avian abundance across the geographic range in response to environmental change. Ecological Applications 7: 614-624.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Phillips, A.R. 1986. The known birds of North and Middle America. Part 1. Published by the author, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.

Silcock, W.R. 1995. Spring Field Report, March-May 1995. NBR 63: 34-60.

Silcock, W.R., and R.C. Rosche. 1994. Fall Field Report, August-November 1994. NBR 62: 126-149.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Williams, F. 1976. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 30: 972-975.

Wolcott, R.H. 1902. A review of Nebraska ornithology. Proceedings Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 3: 93-105.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021.  Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 19 Mar 2021