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Ask any South Carolinian about the state tree, and there’ll be no hesitation as they tell you all about the Palmetto State.
The state bird, though? Well, for many long-time residents and natives, that tiny factotum lies just beyond their knowledge of the place they call home. Yet while the name might elude many South Carolinians, the Carolina wren’s song is one of the most familiar parts of early mornings across the state.
We may not all appreciate it, but the Carolina wren is a perfect representative of one of the most charming areas in the country. Learn some of the more intriguing and unexpected sides of South Carolina history as we tell the story of this prolific songbird.
The Carolina wren became South Carolina’s state bird in 1948. But even though it was an obvious choice to many, the year-round South Carolina resident wasn’t the first official state bird.
The first South Carolina state bird was the northern mockingbird. The General Assembly selected it in 1939 and made it the official state bird in Act 311. It was a popular choice then, as the many-tongued mimic was already representing Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Mississippi would also go with the northern mockingbird for its state bird in 1944.
Only 9 years after the General Assembly named the mockingbird as South Carolina’s state bird, they changed it to the more original (and more appropriate) Carolina wren. To many, it was the correction of a long-standing injustice.
In 1920, the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs recommended that each state adopt a representative bird. Each state’s federation thus played an essential role in choosing them. Although the state General Assembly made the official selections, women’s clubs were often the ones making the recommendations.
South Carolina’s State Federation of Women’s Clubs selected their first state bird in 1930. In the heated battle, the Carolina wren edged out the Carolina dove. It was an unofficial title at the time, and it would be another 9 years before the state would make a set-in-stone selection.
Unfortunately, the talented and celebrated mockingbird was having its moment when it came time to decide in 1939. The logic in choosing the Carolina wren wasn’t enough to sway the General Assembly’s decision.
After 9 years of battling, Carolina wren fans got their way as Act 693, signed by governor Strom Thurmond, made it the new state bird in 1948. The act reversed the previous decision and made killing the Carolina wren or the mockingbird a punishable misdemeanor.
Famous for its “tea-ket-tle” cry, the Carolina wren delivers one of the most recognizable noises in South Carolina. These plump songbirds live in warmer climates across the eastern United States. They’ll make their nests in various habitats, including swamps, forests, and urban environments. You can find them in everything from thick forest underbrush and tree holes to mailboxes, windowsills, and flowerpots. If it provides safety from predators and the elements, it’s suitable enough for a Carolina wren nest.
The Carolina wren grows up to 5.5 inches long with an 11-inch wingspan and lives roughly 6–7 years, typical for smaller songbirds. Although its tell-tale tune is the best way to identify the Carolina wren, it also boasts unique physical traits. The most notable feature is a white stripe over the eye that looks like a long eyebrow. It has a creamy tan body with chestnut-brown tail and back feathers barred in fine black lines.
Carolina wrens are about as indiscriminate with their food choices as they are with their nesting sites. Although they are primarily carnivorous, preferring insects like moths, beetles, and caterpillars above all else, they’ll munch on seeds and berries in a pinch. They prefer to forage rather than fly, using trees and underbrush to protect themselves from predators. You can attract them to your yard with a suet feeder and brush-filled features.
The Carolina wren is monogamous and solitary, so you’ll often see them in pairs. The male bird is the only one to sing, using its call to find a mate. Both parents help build the nest, where the female will lay 3–7 eggs and share duties around caring for their young.
Carolina wren pairs may have several broods in one year. The father provides food for the mother as she incubates the eggs. When they hatch, the parents care for the fledglings for a couple of weeks before the young ones set out on their own. The parents continue feeding them for another 2 weeks while the newly independent birds begin setting up their nests.
The Carolina wren isn’t the only feathered representative for South Carolina. Along with seven other states, South Carolina has an official wild game bird and a state bird.
The wild turkey became the state’s official wild game bird in 1976. Alabama, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma also have the wild turkey as their wild game birds, but South Carolina was the first to make their selection. Though even he admitted it could look rather silly, Ben Franklin advocated strongly for the wild turkey to replace the bald eagle as America’s symbol, arguing that it was far more intelligent, courageous, and noble. With Act 508, South Carolina helped fulfill that wish, in a small way at least.
When it comes to naming state birds, South Carolina is a true trendsetter. While some states like Florida are just now starting to consider more appropriate symbolic birds, South Carolina replaced the mockingbird over 70 years ago, opting for the more deserving Carolina wren.
No matter where you go throughout the state and no matter the time of year, you can always count on the spritely trill of this delightful songbird.
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Featured Image Credit: theSOARnet, Pixabay
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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