Carolina Wren mystery spots

Reader Richard Messer sent me the photos below, asking if I knew what the behavior was that displayed the white “rump spots” of the Carolina Wren. My answer is “no”. I’ve noticed spots like this a few times in the field, but never had a chance to really wonder about them. The BNA account for Carolina Wren doesn’t mention anything about this (and has very little on displays in general), and checking several other references, as well as looking for info on related species of wrens also came up empty.

Carolina Wren in normal posture, about to sing, with rump feathers hidden by the wings. Photo by Richard Messer, used by permission.

The feathers that are involved are the rump feathers, which usually lay flat against the body, under the wings, forming a smooth contour from back to tail. In this case the bird has fluffed them out to cover the wings, and in that way shows a bunch of white spots.

And the same Carolina Wren a few seconds later, after fluffing out the rump feathers so that they now cover the wings and reveal white spots. Photo by Richard Messer, used by permission.

It seems clear that this is a display – the fact that the bird is singing, and that the odd feather arrangement reveals distinctive markings – all suggests that it means something important to other Carolina Wrens.

So much basic information about common birds like this is still unknown. The function of this display, how often it is used, under what circumstances, by one or both sexes, etc. are all open questions that could be answered by an alert backyard birder. If you already know the answers, or have some ideas, please leave a comment.

Update 4 Apr 2011 – new photo

Two Carolina Wrens sleeping with feathers fluffed, which exposes the white spots on the rump. Photo copyright Judy Mojarrad, used by permission.

The photo above by Judy Mojarrad shows two Carolina Wrens sleeping under her roof. With heads turned around and bills tucked into their back feathers, and with the flank and rump feathers completely expanded, these birds look like balls of fluff. They’re fluffed up to conserve heat, and all songbirds adopt a similar pose when they sleep.

In this pose the white spots on the rump feathers might provide some camouflage, but if that was the primary purpose of the spots I would expect a lot more songbirds to show similar markings. [repeating from my comment below:] Carolina Wrens are unusual for 1) fluffing those feathers while singing and 2) having contrasting white spots there. One of the keys to figuring out whether this means anything will be watching a lot of singing Carolina Wrens to see if they show the white spots in certain situations more than others. And I also wonder: Are there any other North American songbirds that show similar white spots? OR any that fluff their rump feathers to cover their wings while singing?


Thanks to Richard for sending this to me and for allowing use of his photos. You can see the original photos at his website here

And thanks to Judy Mojarrad for sending her photo and allowing me to use it here.

110 thoughts on “Carolina Wren mystery spots”

  1. These spots seem similar to the semi-concealed white patches that are frequently seen on various antbirds (family Thamnophilidae) in the Neotropics. Most often present in the back feathers between the scapulars (hence called ‘interscapular patches’), these white bases to feathers are exposed often when a bird is excited, such as when defending its territory against a conspecific.

    My own theory is that these species are usually found in the dark understory of forests, where the dim light allows few visual cues when trying to spot conspecifics. White, however ‘glows’ even under poor light, and thus is a great indicator of the position of the territorial owner to the intruder (or mate, or whomever). I suspect, given the similar ecology of Carolina Wrens (resident, present in understory often with dim lighting during the growing season, singing from obscured perches, etc.), that these white spots serve a similar purpose.

    I might add that the ‘glowing’ effect of white under low light conditions is also used similarly by nightbirds (e.g., the wing and tail flashes of nightjars–usually unique to a species within any given region–or white on throats of owls and nightjars that is only exposed while the bird is singing, etc.).

    1. Hey I have noticed in the past two nights a Carolina wren sleeping in the corner of my porch in the same manner. It’s October and the nights are rather cold. I’m by no means a bird expert. Simply a huge animal lover. I’m very worried something might be wrong with the bird. I want to know if I should (properly) subdue the bird in it’s sleep and take it to the University Animal Hospital nearby or ignore this Ian a natural behavior and Should i leave it be

      1. Absolutey normal behavior. They are not particularly afraid of humans or anything else, and generally sleep near the ground or on porches and nest near the ground as well. Leave it alone. It’s ok to talk to them 😉 If you name it give it a neutral name as you will not be able to tell male from female.

        1. Thank you for your comments, I also have a sweet little “Carolina Wren” now identified by your description. It has been outside in our porch area for over a year and sleeping alone in a corner. We have a great view in kitchen window with it just outside till light and then it is gone. It is so sad alone and we worry about it like parents, if it isn’t there. It has only been away a night then thankfully we both have great sights of relief. I will name it too. Would love to follow it and see what it does all day. And with the extreme in our weather, so glad it is safe, as we are in College Station,Texas heat then winter. I have a picture.

          1. Good morning and happy holidays. I’ve enjoyed reading your post concerning the bird. I’ve had a small bird sleeping under the corner of my porch for a couple of months now. Most people thinks I’m insane as I talk about. Tweet. My daughter and some of my grands came to visit for Thanksgiving. As they was leaving they had a chance to see the bird for themselves. My daughter said I should google it and to my surprise I read stories that resemble my little tweet. I’ve put bread on the eve of the porch for it to eat and often wonder what can I do to keep it warm in cold weather. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

          2. I have some type of bird maybe a blue bird that sleeps in the corner of my porch on a wooden piece that has broken off at the top every night he is there. It’s so weird never heard of anything like it before .

          3. We just moved to College Station and have what we believe is. C When sleeping in a curtain on our back porch!! We are so excited to have a nightly visitor and hopefully a long term one as well.

      2. really late reply but I have noticed one Carolina Wren sleeping under our porch eaves like this. They only did it during bad weather. I would not recommend you ever capture the birds to take to a hospital unless in urgent danger. They are merely making use of another place – these wrens seem to always find any unused human space for their own purposes.

      3. I live in Greenup Kentucky which is in the northeastern Kentucky area. I have pics of one of those bird that sleeps in my barn every night. It likes to get in the corner so only it’s back is exposed.

    2. I have a Carolina wren, and I know that now because of everyone’s posts, that has taken occupancy on a hummingbird handwoven teardrop nest.

      I will try to post the picture because for the longest time I could not figure out what this little creature was which is one of my lovely birds I photograph all day long as well as feed

      But something interesting I noticed is today and yesterday there was another Carolina Wren trying to come up to one of the three teardrop woven nests that I had placed out for the hummingbirds and it was fighting the other ones off and I stood up only to notice that none of them took occupancy because I think I startled them?! If anybody has any thoughts on this I really wanted him to come back so I could take more pictures but none of them are occupying the nest and maybe it’s due to the warm weather that we’ve had for a couple of days as opposed to cold weather here in Bloomington Indiana… Any thoughts just send it this way 🙂 thank you

    3. I have a small bird that comes at dusk on my deck and sleeps in felt on a hanging globe.if not there in some crumpled newspaper on a board above a fluorescent light. “He does not make a nest.” I think it is a Carolina Wren. He leaves in morning. I shined a light on him an took a pic. It didn’t bother him.

    4. We had a juvenile Carolina wren trapped in our basement (overnight, as it turned out). It was hopping and doing low flying and its feathers were fluffed , showing the white spots, pretty much the whole time we were shooing it toward the garage and then out the door to freedom! I had never seen the white spots before and we have a plethora of Carolinas this year in southeastern PA. I looked up juvenile/immature markings and checked other wrens. There is one with white marks on back but no eye stripe. Thx for this post confirming white spirit on Carolinas! I wondered if its fluffed feathers were to help keep it warm? It was dehydrated and went straight to a puddle for many long sips before hopping away.

  2. I have only seen the spots while the bird is singing. Carolina Wrens frequently perch on my deck, and the spots are always visible when they sing. So I have to agree with you that it is a form of display, perhaps to attract a mate. With the spring coming, I have to keep an eye on the Carolina Wrens’ behavior.

  3. Thanks for the hypothesis and the info about antbirds, Dan, that makes a lot of sense. And thanks for your observations on singing, David, I hope you’ll keep us posted on anything more that you learn this spring.

  4. I had a pair use my front porch to get of the wind and rain. They were asleep with the white spots showing. Were they simply at rest not holding them tightly to their body, or trying to blend in with the white porch,or as Dan mentions, was it to mark the porch as their territory as they slept?

    1. Hi Judy, Thanks for that observation. I think your first hypothesis (simply at rest with feathers fluffed out) is correct. All songbirds have long and fluffy feathers on that part of their body, and their primary function is to overlap the wings and provide extra insulation when the bird is resting or very cold. You’ll see a similar feather arrangement on sleeping chickadees, House Sparrows, etc etc. On most species the feathers are just drab grayish or brownish. Carolina Wrens are unusual for 1) fluffing those feathers while singing and 2) having contrasting white spots there. One of the keys to figuring out whether this means anything to the birds will be watching a lot of singing Carolina Wrens to see if they show the white spots in certain situations more than others. And now I wonder: Are there any other North American songbirds that fluff their rump feathers to cover their wings while singing?

      1. Hi David ~ I’m no expert but I will share my thoughts. I found a Carolina Wren that slept on my porch last night. I took a picture to figure out what it was. I think it is to conserve energy, to stay warm. It was one of our first cool nights here in Georgia (of course it was not singing) and it was gone this morning. I’ve seen Carolina Wrens at my home during the day and I’ve never noticed those white spots when they’re singing. They are the cutest little birds. Now my question is … should I place a birdhouse there in the corner on the ledge of my front porch for it to stay warm?

  5. David, I would like to email you the picture I took of them on the porch if you are interested, but I don’t know how to attach it here. If you email me I can attach it if you like, and you are more than welcome to use it.

    1. Judy, I have discovered that I have Carolina Wrens sleeping like this on our porch also. I would like permission to use your photo on my blog as I have not been able to take my own photo yet.

      1. I googled “Bird sleeping on house eaves” and it brought me right to this post! I have a wren sleeping exactly like Judy’s photo except without a mate, but didn’t know the type of wren. This is the 4th year a Carolina Wren has made his home right outside our French doors in the corner and it’s so sweet to watch him. I just wish he had a mate with him. Thanks for all the information!

          1. Same here. They must love to nest up in corners. I wonder if the spots are to ward off predators while they’re vulnerable?

          2. I’m here in Jacksonville, Fl too. I have 2 little black ones perched facing the corner under our carport roof. One showed up first but about 2 weeks later. It brought its buddy back to share the corner. It’s funny because the first one never gets scared or cares if we come out there making noise. It doesn’t budge. However, if it’s still a little daylight to dusk and I walk out there being loud while forgetting they are there. The 2nd one would get spooked and fly away everyday for about 5-6 days. Then it began to stay but keep its head turned to the side watching me w one eye. Now, it just sits still w the first one as they rest together. It was storming off and on for days when they stared hanging around more. However, no more rain has been around for awhile but they decided they like it as their nightly sleep spot. Also, there is a huge brown hawk I have seen off and on perched on wood fence posts in my yard and Ive seen it in the trees of our woods tearing up branches while robbing other’s young from their nest. Well, right before these birds showed up I saw that hawk perched up on my mailbox as I was about to turn into my driveway and it’s the biggest and most enormous hawk I’ve ever seen. As I turned in it wasn’t even scared if me. It only flew away maybe 6 feet w my light shining on it at night and the sounds of my car. So, as I’m stuck staring at the size of it I’m also pulling my car around my house to the back by where the woods start. Then about 15 feet there w my lights shining on them. I see a bunch of deer all standing together stuck staring at my headlights. There were 2 very small about 2-3 feet tall baby deer, 2 older but still young, and 2 more but these 2 looked like adult doe. They became aware and unstuck really quick and able to step right into the woods and I was still in my car as they left out of sight. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep half the night. Getting back to my new little bird friends. I’m almost positive those birds like it under my car port because they figured out ways to keep away and out of the path of Mr. Golliath Hawk Eye’s Wrath of mealtimes when on the prowl!!! Now tonight I started hearing a tawny owl and I hear these birds hate each other and will fight til death. Not sure if this is true w tawny owls too but I hope not because this forest is plenty big enough for all to eat well and have plenty of their own territory!! Nature is so therapeutic until I watch a hawk bully a mom and steal her young and I hear the mother cry for her babies!!! Then I get so upset and feel like it was me who lost a child. Yes. It may be nature but just Like life being unfair. IT ALL TRULY SUCKS AND THE OLDER I GET THE MORE UPSET I GET!! BUT HEY…AT LEAST I STILL GOT MY 2 NEW BABIES COMING EVERYNIGHT TO REST IN THE CORNER!!

    2. Hi, I Googled to see if I could get info as well. I live in Michigan and I would love to post a picture and hope someone can give me info on my little friend.

  6. I have had the pleasure of sitting in my livingroom and watching a pair of Carolina Wrens build the nest, lay the eggs (all 5 lived), feed them, and sing, sing, sing. The little ones arrived June 1, so I know they will be gone about the time I move. I have been here 4 yrs. and it wasn’t until I am about to move that I had the opportunity to see these sweet little birds in action. These are definitely parenting birds. They are no bothered by my looking at them, making sure my plant is covering them, watering my plant a little, and actually taking a small flashlight to check on them at night. To think that I tried to discourage the male from starting the nest in my golden pothos….after 3 times of cleaning the plant, I finally gave in to him. I am so happy that I did! By the way, I am in South Caroina.

    1. I have a sliding door in my apartment onto my porch. I always open my blinds to let the sun in. I have a mature pathos on a sturdy shelf outside. One day, I was laying in my bed, and I saw a Carolina Wren (its our state bird, so I knew what it looked like) going back and forth. over and over. I have never seen a pair. The single parent has made a messy nest in my pathos. I am trying to not disturb the nest. I look forward to seeing the eggs, babies…but when I (carefully) water the plant, I see no eggs, and I have only seen one bird making a nest. Whats up with that?

      1. Hi Avis, male Carolina Wrens often start several nests then let the female choose where she wants to finish setting up house. They are fascinating birds and so interesting to watch. I hope you got to see them raise a brood.

  7. Can someone answer this question? All 4 Carolina Wrens flew the nest. The 5th one couldn’t. One of the parents returned for it but saw me and left. Then the baby kept trying to fly. He finally ended up taking a leap off my balcony. He was hopping into the woods where his family was calling him. I don’t know whatever happened to him. Right after the sun went down one of the parents showed up on my balcony and looked like he was looking for the nest. Did he return because the last baby never found them?

    1. Hi Angela, First, congratulations on your wren family. The fifth baby wren might have been either slower to develop than the others (maybe the egg was laid later?) or had some issues with its wings or feathers that gave it trouble flying. Either way, it’s best chance of survival would be to follow the rest of the family away from the nest. The parents’ instinct to care for the young is very strong, so as long as that bird was able to call the parents would find it and feed it, wherever it ended up. The biggest danger to it would be predators such as house cats, but hopefully it was able to avoid those and just needed another day or so to grow its wing feathers and begin flying.

      1. David, I am having my first experience with a Carolina Wren! Precious little creatures! I didn’t know what had decided to make my porch it’s sleeping quarters, but just this morning discovered that it’s a Carolina Wren. Every night he flies in and isn’t bothered by our conversation.

  8. I saw a bird grooming itself on the fence in the backyard and took some photos. I thought it was a Carolina Wren, but the white spots made me think it was maybe some other type of bird. Thank you for confirming it was indeed a Carolina Wren. The spots only appear when the bird is fluffed up. Since this seems to occur while grooming and sleeping, do you think it is more of a defensive adaptation to deter predators while they are vulnerable? Side note: They love peanut butter.

    1. Christa, Thanks, I’m glad this was helpful. The function of these spots is still unknown. The original photos that I posted about show a bird that seems to be displaying, but other observations (like yours) are just birds incidentally showing these feathers while preening or sleeping. Maybe the spots at those times offer some cryptic coloration? Maybe there is no obvious reason for the spots? Keep watching and the answer might become clear someday.

      1. I have two Carolina wren out on eaves of front porch. Sometimes, I have one on side porch. Tonight he isn’t there, I hope he’s ok. I’m wondering if these aren’t the babies I watched being laid, hatching, and mom and dad care for this past spring? Don’t these birds stay close to their original home? If anyone knows, please reply!

  9. Thanks for this post, David. I was looking at a photo of a Florida bird and wondering if those spots were particular to the subspecies or simply normally hidden; I live outside their range, so had to google it.

    You asked if there were any other species that fluff their rump feathers while singing; the first one to jump to mind is Yellow-breasted Chat. It’s another species whose range I’m outside of, but I’ve seen enough photos (such as this one: to know they do this at least some of the time. They don’t seem to show white spots on the rump, though.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak? ( They’ve got a mottled rump, not the well-defined spots of the CARW.

    I was going to suggest Brown-headed Cowbird, too, except on reviewing photos it seems that while they fluff their body feathers, the rump feathers are largely excluded.

      1. Hi, I have a tiny bird that comes back every evening and perches on the corner of my porch. If I could send you a picture would you please help me to identify the bird. Thank you’n

  10. I, too, saw a Carolina Wren with these puzzling spots. It was preening on a branch, and if I hadn’t seen its head, I wouldn’t have been able to ID it. Curious, I looked online for answers.
    According to the blog “Notes from the Wildside” , by Adrian Binns, “This bird is preening with his … mantle feathers fluffed out. The grey spots are actually the feather tips in molt. Once the bird has molted, the back will be an even color.”
    Pete Brown’s blog and a couple others have spotted-C.W. photos ID’d as young [at/in the nest], so apparently what A.B. meant was “once the young bird has molted into its adult plumage” — but he neglected to use an modifier such as “juvenile” or “immature” when he ID’d it by species.
    If that’s all it is, I’m surprised I’d never seen these spots before, even if the wings do conceal them when the bird isn’t fluffed up.

  11. I’ve had the same bird sleep on my porch for the last 3 years. It will go missing for a few weeks and then its back for a few nights rest and gone again.

  12. I too have found these adorable birds on my porch. Could not find anything that looked like them until now, and only because they have been fluffed up and sleeping! Thank you

  13. Intriguing discussion. The detailed plumage descriptions in The Bird Life of Texas (Oberholser 1974) describe white rump spots in Carolina, Bewick’s, House, Winter (presumably Pacific too) and Cactus Wrens, but no mention of white rump spots in Rock, Canyon, Sedge and Marsh Wrens.

  14. Hi Mr Sibley,

    Good day, I think that I have at least one very good theory for these spots and have photos to back this theory up. I have observed these birds over the years and there is always a pair somewhere in the yard or roosting above my doors under the awning. I have photos of where they actually tuck their tail away and fluff up their feathers completely into a round ball and this makes them look just like a pine cone. I can only imagine that they use this to camouflage themselves where they might sleep, you can imagine this before there were any buildings around. They sleep this way all night and never defecate where they sleep either. I think this is all a strategy to avoid being detected at night.

    On a side not I have a picture of the “ball” of feathers and have had a competition on my Facebook page for four years now, offering a $30 prize if anyone can guess what it is. As of yet no one has been able to guess what this “thing” is.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. Hi Andre, Thanks for sharing your hypothesis. Camouflage does sound like a good explanation for these spots, at least to explain the appearance of birds that are fluffed up and sleeping. It doesn’t fit quite as well to explain the spots when a bird is singing. I suppose the bird could also need camouflage then, since it is sitting up in the open broadcasting its song, and presumably most vulnerable to attack from behind – maybe the spots make it harder for a predator to see? Or maybe the species that have evolved these spots have also started to use them secondarily as a visual display?

    2. Hello, I landed on this site by searching for “brown bird with white spots”. A pair of wrens has a nest in an old horse halter that hangs near a busy doorway in the barn. They fledged 2 separate sets of offspring this past summer. This is at least the 2nd or 3rd year that they have used this nest – even though we walk back and forth past it many times each morning and each evening. Usually the nest sites empty all fall and winter.
      What brought me to this reply is that last night I noticed “something” in the nest. A “ball” of wren colored feathers with white spots (just as Mr. Nel described) no head or tail visible. It was gone before sunup this morning. However – it was there again tonight.
      It has been rainy here for the past two days, although warmer than usual.
      I have no way to know if this is one of the parents, or one of the offspring, or a completely unrelated wren.
      As I see in many posts here – my moving around and going back and forth through the doorway does not seem to disturb it at all.
      Hopefully this gives you one more tiny piece to the puzzle.
      Thank you

  15. I have a new friend in a Carolina wren sleeps in the ceiling of what’s the balcony above my patio. Shows the white spots. seems oblivious to the patio light and didn’t care the patio door was open when it must have flown up to sleep. Second night, same exact spot. Was not here last year. I feel complimented by its presence. My patio has plants with a big tree nearby, but it does face a parking lot.

  16. I was online looking for answers about those very white spots you are describing. This morning I saw a Carolina wren sitting atop a tree stump (about four feet high) where I have a small bird feeder. It was singing and was all fluffed up with the white spots showing. There was also a light rain. I’m a bit new to bird watching. Ran for my camera, but the wren didn’t have enough patience to wait for me!

  17. We just arrived home late from dinner out with family to find a ball of fluff on our brick ledge near our front door. I knew by the coloring it to be a wren. I was surprised to see one there with our porch light above. It was tucked into the corner as close as it could get to where our siding comes together. At first I was alarmed, but after reading these comments, I am convinced he is sleeping peacefully and will be alright. He didn’t budge as we were filtering into the house. 🙂

  18. I have one that hangs out in feont of my kitchen door under the overhabg every time it rains. He always sleeps there. I am going to buy him a bird house. I have been snapping pictures of him the past few weeks when he is there. I don’t know how to upload them to here. I named him Kevin 🙂

  19. We have had 2 birds I am guessing now they are Carolina Wrens!! They come back to either the front porch or back patio,we love them we at dusk we are looking for them calling them our babies!! Question can u buy a bird house for them???

  20. My wife and I thought we had bats nesting on our entrance way, but when I typed in Florida birds that slept in pairs, this site pulled up with a similar photo to our own. Beautiful creatures they are.

  21. I had a little speckled ‘body’ that slept in the end of a patio rolled shade throughout this last winter. I never knew what it was. It is spring now and nights are warmer, but it is still sleeping there. I Googled ‘fluffed speckled sleeping bird’ and found that my little friend is a wren. They are such beautiful, graceful little creatures. I’m glad to know they like peanut butter. They also like live meal worms.

    1. OMG, we have exact same ‘story’ – and also the comment above you (bats). I thought I had a skittish bat for a couple months over the summer – then discovered a ball of fluff in the same spot every night as the weather turned cold. He sleeps on my rolled bamboo shade too, so cute! He is in the corner, with just his fluffed back to the patio. II hope my Petey stays forever, too. (here’s what I commented on the first sight I looked to ID my bird:
      Wow, so cool that other people have the same adorable little bird hanging out! Thanks for tips on meal worms and PB – i only had success with one grape so far.

      My “Petey” bird here north of Seattle, WA, has been out on my condo back deck (backs up to greenbelt & wetlands) up in the corner with just his back and tail visible – for over a month. I saw him every once in a while last summer, but he seemed to be easily woken and scared away (if it was the same bird.) Petey seems to sleep like it’s hibernation! I can see his face a little – he is perched on top of my bamboo sun shade, so i can go on the other side and peek at him. He comes back around dusk and is gone before I get up in the morning, always.
      I wanted him to be a little warmer (it’s been sooo cold here in Seattle!) so I put up a cardboard windbreak nearby, & a cozy kleenex box bird house…He refused to come “home” until I moved those items farther away 🙁 he did eat the grape, however, that i left in the box. One day last week there was a 2nd bird, just like Petey, sleeping on the other shade. He was spooked away very easily though.
      Last thought – in the morning, i have beautiful bird songs as many many birds swoop & nibble on the bird food. I justt can’t tell if Petey-bird is one of the daytime songbirds who hang out?? Too hard to compare colors, but I think i have chickadees. Petey looks a little like them but no white on him anywhere, i dont think. I’ll have to keep watching and get more pics! Happy Birding!

  22. Kristin Korber

    I opened the front door to what we “thought” was a bird, but really wasn’t sure until I looked it up & found this site. This is the 2nd night that it has been in the corner of the porch, up under the eaves, back to us, conversation or lights do not seem to bother it & I was able to take quite a few pictures of it… I’m glad I was able to identify it from this site as it made me a little nervous at first. Same situation, puffed up furry-looking little ball with the tail straight down. Would be glad to send pics if provided with the email or other means. Live in NC.

  23. I’ve gad this same kind of bird perching itsekf nightly under my porch roof.
    I find it amazing if its the sane bird that it comes back winter or summer. Should I put a bird house out there for it??
    Thank you

  24. Hi, like everyone else wants to know – can we put a birdhouse up for our little fluffballs? Mine isn’t bothered at all by me on the porch (we even moved a couch last night within inches of him!) but when I put up a windbreak near his spot he was gone for 2 nights. To be fair, i was out there poking around at dusk when he prob wanted to go to bed…but it made me very sad, and I dont like to see him so fluffed & curled in a ball -he just looks very cold

  25. I just discovered a Carolina Wren sleeping under the eaves on my front porch last night. My first reaction was what the heck is that thing. I have red squirrels and chipmunks (and field mice) and I wasn’t sure if it was one of them. Finally after peering out the door at it, I went out and walked up under it. It didn’t flinch a feather.

    Happy to have found this thread to learn this is a common habit of the Carolina Wren/ Mine is also showing its little white spots in its fluff mode.

  26. Mystery solved! Thanks for the descriptions of your spotted “fluff balls”. Two Carolina Wrens sleep in the Christmas wreath on our front door, rump to face! They settle in for the night at around 5 pm, I’m going to have to make my Christmas wreath an “every holiday” wreath so I can keep it hanging on our door and enjoy watching these two for a while. I’ll tie a few hearts to the wreath for Valentines Day, shamrocks in March, flowers in April……

    1. My mystery is now solved. I posted pics of two birds on FB two years ago, they arrived on Christmas and slept perched in the corner of my front porch every night it was real cold. Last year they didn’t come. This year they are back. They stayed seven nights. I could never see their faces and had no clue what kind of birds they were. I kept posting pics of them and a friend just told me what they were!! I checked it out here and sure enough that is what I have. I just love them! I am in Georgia. Its real cold this year so that’s why they are hanging around longer. They are so fluffy and have lots of white spots.

      1. Ive been checking overnight to look at the 2 little fluffy birds that sleeps at the top of the pillars on my front verandah. Two nights ago as i waited to see them fly in, perch up and fluff up. One never showed up through-out the whole night. i kept checking and the 2cd bird never came home. I was somewhat concerned for i had found a great appreciation for the 2 sleeping birds and looked forward to them returning at dusk everyday to perch up on top of the 2 pillars. well the next night after being concerned about the missing bird i went to check to see about them. I found the two birds now perched up and fluffed up, but this time they joined each other on the same pillar, they leaned up closely against one another as they slept throughout the night. i figured they missed one another. it was the cutest thing I’ve seen in quite a a while. SOOOO adorable to see them embrace one another after a night separated. my heart melted.

  27. thank you Judy for the pix of the two wrens under your porch. I have two which have been sleeping under my front awning. They look EXACTLY like yours. I live in Pa., so now I know why they were “missing” all winter!…..They go South!!!

  28. I named my little wren “Carolina” (I know…real original). She has been on the porch at nightfall and gone by sunrise for almost 3 weeks now. I also wonder about putting a bird house nearby, or food. But then I worry that seeds will attract other birds/chipmunks and she will not come back to sleep at night. I think I will just put seed at the feeder behind my house this winter. I’m sure she will find it. If she is actually a male, guess I will call him “Carl.”

  29. Thanks for this post. I have a Carolina wren sleeping in the fern hanging by my front door. At first, the little bird would get scared when I opened the door and fly right into my face. Now, we’re friends. The wren sleeps with the white spots of the ruff exposed.

    1. I have one that comes and goes, I have lived in norfolk va for the past two years and never have I startled the wren that sits on the ledge of the covering over my pack porch, I would die if it flew at me while opening the back door.

  30. Where I live in norfolk Virginia I have see this same type of bird on the ledge of the covering over my back porch. I could never figure out what type it was. although I’m not bothered by the bird, and it seems to not be bothered by me.. when turning on the outdoor light or letting my dogs out, it will still stay put. I have been out there standing just a few feet away from it and still it’s not bothered by me, I’m glad we have established some understanding.. i would think the age of the bird has something to do with the spots or the fur like hair on them, but I’m no bird expert.

  31. Alexis in Texas

    My husband and I are in Austin, TX, and mid-June 2016 we went on a walk in a somewhat rocky, hilly, wooded area near our apartment. We saw a group of wrens from a little way off, foraging on and near the ground. We get both Bewick’s and Carolina wrens in this area (northwest Austin), and we’ve even had one Canyon wren come to our balcony (distinctive speckled pattern and we got to hear it sing its rather unique song, too). So when we saw spots on the foraging wrens, we wondered whether it was a whole group of Canyon wrens. But something didn’t seem to fit. We were able to get closer without scaring them off, and they definitely had white spots on their back, but it wasn’t at all like the Canyon wren’s pattern. They had the rufous coloring of Carolina wrens, but we were confused by the spots.

    We found this blog post, which solved the mystery, so thank you! But I wanted to note that the birds we saw (3 or 4 in a spread-out group) were NOT singing at all; they were busily foraging (not resting or sleeping); and it wasn’t cold (it was about 80 degrees fahrenheit). There were other bird species in the same general area, including Northern Cardinals and Black-Crested Titmice, in case that matters. I wish we had photos to share, but we didn’t take a camera with us. :\

    The environment and behavior of the Carolina Wrens we saw when they were exposing those back feathers with the white spots seems to be completely different from the original report and the others in the comments here. So it’s still a bit of a mystery, no?

  32. I have two of these cute little birds that sleep each night on my patio. I have patio drapes hanging and they “hang” on the drapes to sleep. They don’t get in the area where the drapes “drape. They just hang on. Sometimes they are 6-8 inches from one another and sometimes they will be on two different drapes. Night before last, they looked like a very long bird. They were touching – one under the other.
    And last night, the drapes were wet from raining, but one of them still showed up to sleep.

  33. Hi – we first found these sweet birds at the top of a column under the front porch a couple years ago. First just one, the next year a pair (slept in opposite corners) last year no one showed up but this year, we have the one back! It seems to stay for about a week then disappears! It comes in the evening and is gone in the morning! Never makes a mess and always uses the same column nook! We are in North Carolina near the border of South Carolina,

  34. I am so glad my search landed me on this site. I’ve been very curious about the identity of our mysterious friend….I first noticed mid September and looked like a hairy fuzzy dark ball up on ledge near our porch ceiling. Over this 2 week period it has grown up a bit…as I’ve taken pictures. I was a bit worried when it skipped a night stay at the regular spot and then it skipped 3 nights in a row. It’s back now on a second night stay and leaves early in the morning. Ive noticed he/she likes to overnight with us when temperature is cooler….. there’s no nest tho, it just perches itself on the ledge. We live in Northern Virginia and the winter can be harsh… I wonder if I should put some leaves, twigs or some food?

  35. I just recently moved here to Georgia from California, and I have never seen anything like this. It was my 5th night in the house and I wanted to get some fresh air so I decided to go out and get some fresh air around 8pm and when I turned on my porch light, I saw 2 birds facing the wall above my porch, they were in a dark area on my porch and I was frightened as I was home alone. I took a picture as best I could and my husband told me they were bats. after doing some research online, I’m finding the same birds as on my porch online so now I feel comfortable with them there. they come back every now and then and night, but is gone first thing in the morning.

  36. I’ve had at least one Carolina Wren hanging around, if for no other reason because I keep feeders stocked with peanuts and suet. Today I’ve been seeing one that’s missing it’s tail feathers. I don’t know if that’s normal this time of year (it’s St. Louis).

  37. We have two Carolina Wrens that come to sleep by my front door tucked into a wooden angel! Noise and the door opening for the dogs to come and go don’t seem to bother them at all. Loving this!

  38. I hang a Christmas wreath of fresh evergreens on the front porch every year and the Carolina Wrens love to sleep there. I really looked forward to putting one up every year, thinking they were attracted to the fresh evergreens but this year winter came early to North Texas and they slept in my Fall wreath which is entirely artificial, so that theory bit the dust. 🙂 I enjoyed reading the comments here and I’m now thinking of other “features” I can add to the porch for their sleepovers.

    1. We have one in an old robins nest in a summer wreath on the front porch. I had never seen one before. Hope it can handle the cold Ohio winters.

  39. JD - Germantown MD

    Carolina Wren is probably my favorite bird. Beautiful, LOUD, happy song and adorably curious. They will come inside and snoop around if I leave my sliding door open. (YES, I once discovered a mysterious “white stain.” 🙂 ) They nested and hatched tiny fluffball chicklets on my deck a few years ago. (All fluff with a tail sticking out.) I’m three stories up and worried about their first flight. They are frequent visitors and LOVE foraging around for their favorite crushed nuts I put out for them. (Shared with two varieties of Nut Hatch.) Always in pairs. They often make multiple nests before choosing the best one – so I was thrilled last night when I looked outside and saw a nest burrowed out in the coir (coco fiber) liner of a hanging pot. Peeking through my sliding door, I thought I saw SPOTS, but nest was empty during day. I just looked again tonight, saw the weird spots – got a flashlight and it IS a Carolina Wren. Googled this article. Didn’t want to disturb her, but she’s all fluffed with spotted rump feathers out. Looks like she’s head first into her dug out – butt sticking out. (It’s 36 degrees out tonight.) Nest is only a foot from my door in great view. I hopes she sticks around. They make me happy. I’m a geek. 🙂

  40. This year I have a leucistic Carolina Wren in my back yard. Leucism in birds is an anomaly that is caused by lack of pigmentation in some of the feathers. In this case, little Sweet Pea (as I call him) has showy white feathers on top of his tail and underneath and on his wings—in addition to the usual Carolina Wren eyebrow. He’s very attractive, quite unusual and the loudest songster in my yard. I definitely know when he’s around!

  41. A Carolina wren built a nest in a plastic bottle with the bottom cut out on our back porch. My husband has seen a baby in the nest This morning I saw the wren entering the nest with a worm or insects several times. It had the rump feathers fluffed out with the white spots and looked exactly like the bird in the above picture. I saw 2 Carolinas on the ground under my feeders. Only one had the rump feathers fluffed out. There has been a lot of agitated chirping all morning as there have been lots of birds at the feeders and a squirell which leads me to think that the spots appear when wrens are excited.

  42. I currently have one on my porch which prompted my google search. If you’d like the pic feel free to reach out!

  43. I have one sleeping on my bird feeder on my porch right now and also have a picture. Pretty cool looking bird. Was very confused at first as to what it was because it’s feathers don’t look like feathers lol so I searched it and read all the awsome comments. If you would like the picture just let me know!

  44. I’m from Southern Louisiana (a few miles outside of Baton Rouge) and just last night I saw a little bird huddled up in a corner in the eaves of my porch. This is the first time I have ever had anything living under my porch, not including wasps! I have a few pictures of it and after reading all of the comments, I think it’s a Carolina Wren. I’m so excited that I have a new houseguest and I want to do whatever I can to make it safe and comfortable. Should I buy a house or nest for it? Should I put out a specific type of food? I already have regular bird feeders, hummingbird feeders, squirrel corn and suet cakes. Can you tell how much I love my little visitors?!? I want to do all I can to help my most recent addition but I certainly don’t want to interfere or do anything that could negatively affect it. I would love any tips and advice from someone more knowledgeable than I. This is the first year I have put anything in my yard for squirrels, birds, etc. and I am certainly not an expert! Feel free to email me with any information! Thanks in advance!

  45. I found a Carolina Wren sleeping just like this in Southwest Georgia last night. I got good photos if you need them! Soooo sweet!

    1. So happy I found this site. I live in Denison Texas (far north Tx) and I also have a week that chose my corner under back porch to roost at night. At first I thought was some kind of small owl and I was lucky enough to be looking out window when I saw It fly up there. I feel so honored he chose my house :). It’s been pretty cold at night and feel sorry for him and looking at ideas to help him stay warm without running him off, like a house or something. I hope my little feathered friend stays around for e long time.

  46. Hi David,
    I know I am late to the conversation, but thank you for this post on Carolina Wrens. I live in Ohio and have two little visitors on most nights. They like to sleep in an abandoned nest I have on my back patio. Usually Mourning Doves lay eggs there in the spring. I was surprised when two “babies” appeared in the winter. I couldn’t identify them when searching. My sister sent me this link as she was helping me to identify them. It turns out they are likely adults. I would love to send you the photo of their spots while they are sleeping. Please email me as I cannot attach a picture.

    1. So glad I found this site, too! I googled bird sleeping in corner and sure enough when I looked at the picture I took, I can see the white spots. We have a Carolina wren nest inside our wall cabinet on the same back porch. I checked on it the other day and a single egg is there but the babies have all left now. The Carolina Wrens are present in our backyard everyday. I love watching them. They jump on our patio furniture and check out every single item we leave out. I see them jump up to the chairs by the window and spy on us inside. They live to eat cooked chicken I notice. If I leave a piece out for them they gobble it up.

  47. Hi there I live in San Antonio, Tx. And I have 2 of these Carolina Wrens that just moved in to my house, they leave during the day and comeback in the evening.

  48. I mistook a Carolina Wren sleeping on a ledge under the roof of our patio for a perched accipiter due to this note in the Sibley’s Guide (2nd edt.) on page 129: “all perched accipiters can show bright white spots on back when feathers are fluffed”. An illustration accompanies this note that looked very much like what I saw sleeping on the ledge and like the photo above from 4th Apr 2011, except for the sleeping bird’s small size. The size mismatch made me look further and I am glad to have found this discussion that has cleared up the identity of my mystery lodger. The note in the Guide supports yet another theory about the function of the Wren’s spots: protection from predation via mimicry of the predator. But I do not know if accipiters are major predators of Carolina Wrens, or at least have been in the evolutionary past.

  49. We live in Central FL (Gulf side). We’ve recently noticed one little masked bird perched on our front door frame every night when we bring our flag in. It doesn’t seem bothered by our nightly ritual or the porch light. I haven’t noticed spots, does it have to have spots to be a Carolina wren? Also, when I looked up Carolina wren songs, it doesn’t sound the same as the “chewy, chewy, chewy” sounds we heard this morning.

  50. I had a Carolina Wren on my porch sleeping for at least a month. The other day I left a few seeds on its stoop and it hasn’t returned since. Any tips/ advice on how to get my sweet wee little wren back? So worried Inscared him/her off.


      As long as there is a covered high shelf of some kind that they would consider safe from predators , sooner or later they would be there to at least raise their young.

  51. I was trying to decide if the small speckled bird I thought I saw was really a vivid dream! I came out of the woods and disturbed him/her under the ivy in our back yard about a week ago. It went back under and I went the other way. Finally got around to trying to identify. (Mid September, PA 2020)

  52. Diana Leigh Bowers

    I’m looking at a sleeping Carolina wren showing the white spots as it sleeps right now in the top inside corner of a covered porch.

    I would like to suggest that maybe these markings could have a purpose that is twofold. Since they show up when singing, they likely are a way to show off for a mate.

    Also, tho, when I realized this little guy was up there, he didn’t even immediately register as a bird. I think the spots may help to break up the outline of wren’s body when it is at its most vulnerable, the same way the stripes of the okapi provide excellent camouflage in dense forest, but make it look clownishly obvious in the open.

    This kind of camouflage would be obviously especially useful if you’re a fearless little creature such as the Carolina wren.

  53. We ave a Carolona wren sleeping in an unused planter filled with moss. The tail and and rump feathers (with white spots) are plainly visible. How can I send a picture?


    I have had Carolina wrens raise their young inside my back porch (the back screen door blew off and we never replaced it) They would build their nest on top of a high shelf in a storage box, but this year with no nest or hatchlings, they continuously come and perch on my back porch, sometimes with food in their mouth, as if they’re looking to safely feed their young. But i’v looked and looked, there’s nothing to indicate a reason for them to come. Does anyone know why they would prefer to perch there?

  55. I have one at night sleeping on my porch. Would it hurt to give it a bird house? I’m hoping it sticks around

  56. Michael & Zhi Gardjulis

    We have 2 sometime 3 living on our front porch. They have been coming here for years. They usually come just before it get dark. And they leave as soon as the sun pops up.

  57. Hello 🙂 thank you so much for posting this information & the photographs. I have noticed two of these beautiful little birds roosting in each corner of my porch. The photograph of the bird that has the black on the bottom of its wings & body is not present on the little angel I have but the markings on her eyes are unmistakable. She sometimes gets startled when I let my dog out & I am blessed because I get to see her beautiful face. Since they are called Carolina Wrens is it odd to find them in Tennessee? I have noticed them coming back to my home year after year. It is so cold here. Should I purchase a bird house for the babies? Or should I leave out food? I feel so blessed to have one of God’s most beautiful creatures on my front porch 💜

  58. Pingback: What Do Carolina Wrens Look Like

  59. Jennifer Rogers

    I had wrens nest in my backyard. The babies fledged about a week ago. I’ve been watching for their survival and return as we have a number of outdoor cats in the neighborhood. I think I’ve seen at least one fledging return with one adult. One perched on fence and I saw white spots on fluffy rump feathers. I thought this was a sign of a young one until I went searching online to find out about the white spotted feathers…. The Wren didn’t appear to be singing. It was near dusk. Wakulla County, FL.

  60. Now I know what is sleeping in that towel on my porch! I thought it was a wren, but was confused because of the white spots; I finally found the explanation here, thank you! I left a towel hanging on the laundry line and was about to take it down, then forgot. That very night that little wren started sleeping there. The first night I saw it I was concerned about its wellbeing, since I’ve never seen a bird sleep in a towel before. I touched the towel very lightly and the bird just turned its head around and looked and then continued sleeping. It is the cutest thing and I hope it will stay for us for awhile. It’s been about two weeks now. I wish I could feed it, because there seem to be very few insects around because of the terrible drought. But I guess the little one finds enough to eat and I always have water out for the birds and deer.

  61. As everybody else, I’m happy to have stumbled upon this page. We often have young Carolina Wrens roost in the upper corners of our porch. I recently hung a ‘cozy cabana” fabric bird house teepee hut thing on our back porch, and eventually one of the young wrens took advantage of a luxurious few nights of rest. I photographed it in the cabana, surprised to see the spray of white spots across the rump feathers; it reminded me of a deer fawn. Young deer have the spots to camouflage themselves on the ground, blending in as if the spots were bits of light between the tree leaves. A sleeping wren at night is so small, it would be an easy mark for nighttime visual predators without some spots to mask it in the tree branches, like bits of moonlight through the leaves. Since only male Carolina Wrens sing, I would presume they are showing off their defense mechanism to prospective mates when fluffing their rump feathers while singing- or, perhaps even helping to mask themselves slightly at a time when they are loudly drawing attention to themselves.

  62. We live in Bryan Texas and a few years ago noticed a Carolina Wren sleeping in one of our porch eaves. Not sure if it’s the same bird but every year one of them nests in our winter months . One year my husband nailed a board by it’s space so that it would be able to perch better but that only caused it to leave for the year. Now we just turn off the porch light and let nature take it’s course.

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