Rare wren sightings reported at Wild River State Park

By Derrick Knutson —

Have you heard about the bird; specifically, the Carolina Wren in Wild River State Park that really shouldn’t be in Minnesota this time of year?

The Carolina Wren inhabits the southeast portion of the United States, and very rarely makes it as far north as Chisago County, especially in winter. Photos courtesy Rubin Stenseng

The rusty brown bird’s territory encompasses much of the southeast portion of the United States, but it’s rare to spot the wren this far north, Wild River State Park Naturalist Kacie Carlson said.

Carlson, other park employees and dozens of park goers have laid their eyes upon this ornithological oddity this winter. It has been showing up at a suet feeder near the park’s visitor center.

Park volunteer Rubin Stenseng was one of the first people to recognize the non-native bird; he captured numerous photos of it with his digital camera.

Wild River State Park Naturalist Kacie Carlson estimated about 75 people have come to see the Carolina Wren at Wild River State Park since it was first spotted hopping and flying around near the park’s visitor center in November.

Later, the photos were shown to the lead birder for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the president of the Minnesota Ornithological Union. Both confirmed the bird was indeed a Carolina Wren.

“This is the second time it’s ever been seen in Chisago County,” Carlson said. “The last time was in 1989, so it’s a very rare sighting.”

Carlson said the bird was first spotted at the park in mid-to-late November.

The wren is an insectivore, meaning its diet consists mainly of the creepy, crawly creatures most of us smash when we see them in our houses.

Insects aren’t very abundant in winter, which raises the question: how is this bird staying alive?

Carlson postulated the wren is living off the suet from the visitor center’s feeder. Suet is mainly composed of animal fat and doesn’t provide enough nutrients to keep insectivores alive over numerous months, Carlson said.

However, she noted weeks of above-average temperatures might have led to some insects staying alive past the fall, and the wren could be getting some protein if it has found a cache of bugs.

“A couple of weeks ago there were little clouds of insects flying around out there,” she said. “It’s possible that there are some kinds of little insects out there with this warm weather. It was weird to see clouds of insects out there in December.”

The unseasonably warm temperatures could also be the reason why the wren is here at all.

A standard, frigid Minnesota winter wouldn’t have allowed the bird to survive here, Carlson said, but the weeks of spring-like warmth haven’t been too harsh on the wren.

But if the weather turns cold soon, that could spell bad news for the bird.

“If it’s a smart bird, it will fly south sooner than later,” she said. “If we get some snow and it starts to turn colder, the suet just won’t be able to keep it alive anymore. It’s kind of a death sentence for this bird.”

For the time being, dozens of bird watchers are heading out to Wild River State Park, hoping to catch a rare glimpse of the wren while it’s here.

“There are people who would chase this bird through hip-high snow for miles in the winter to get a picture of it,” Carlson said. “It is the thing to see while you can see it. It doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. It’s a good, healthy-looking bird.”

 

 

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