The male House Wren sings a song that sounds as though it is coming from a bird twice its size. When you first hear it in the spring, it is a happy, uplifting sound – a long series of bubbling notes, with a brief pause and then a repetition, a pause and a repetition, again and again, from sunrise to sunset. If the bird has chosen a nest site near a bedroom window, this delightful spring song quickly loses is appeal.
All of this singing is done to attract a mate to his territory. The scientific name for wrens is Trogolodyte, which in Greek means, “cave dweller” or “creeper in holes”. This refers to the bird’s habit of building its nest in cavities. In nature that would include old woodpecker nests and hollow cavities in the trees. Before the females even arrive, the males have been building as many as seven nests, some considered “dummies”, and only two or three that receive his most ardent attention.
House wrens have long associated with human habitations and found lots of choices for their stick nests. These include, but are not limited to; watering cans, old hats, tea pots, flower pots, old boots, coat pockets, mailboxes, drain pipes, and parked cars. They are also make use of wooden birdhouses, either those built specifically for them, or others meant for swallows and bluebirds.
You have to give the little guys credit. Building these nests is no small feat, since each is built with stiff twigs, usually four inches long. Imagine the dexterity and persistence needed to maneuver a stick that is crosswise in your bill into a very small opening in the nest box. They do this time and time again until the box appears to be stuffed full of jumbled twigs. Somehow he manages to leave a space for an interested female to poke her head in and decide if this is the place she’s been looking for. If it is she will begin bringing soft grasses and feathers, or animal hair to make a comfortable lining. She will lay 6 to 8 eggs and both parents will help feed the young.
Shortly after the young have fledged, the male will begin singing his repetitive territorial song in order to maximize his breeding season. He will clean out the old nest boxes and set up housekeeping once again. One wonders when he has time to catch the insects he needs to keep his energy up. This is one bird that will not deplete the wild bird seed
that you put in your bird feeders.
Sometimes in their nest building frenzy a male House Wren will enter a bluebird or swallow nest box and either puncture all the eggs or even pick up the babies and remove them from the nest. I witnessed this last shocking act at our home once. That was when I started feeling less happy about having house wrens in the neighborhood.
We had put up a couple of really cute little wren houses and each year they were filled to the brim with sticks and a wren couple. These houses began to deteriorate about the time I saw the attack on the bluebirds and so we did not repair them and the wrens did not set up shop the next year.
I heard the familiar call this past June and sure enough there was an industrious male house wren carrying twigs to an empty bluebird house in our field. I didn’t see him visiting the other nest boxes on the other side of the property, so I remain hopeful that the bluebirds successfully fledged their young.
If you don’t have bluebirds or swallows nesting nearby, house wrens are good birds to entice into your yard. They and their young eat a wide variety of insects and will glean them from your garden, as well as from trees and shrubs. They are surprisingly energetic and industrious little birds and if you can tolerate their constant “bragging” and non-stop work ethic, you will find them good neighbors. But when they leave at the end of summer, you may also find yourself wondering what is that big silence around your house? It was left as a gift by the house wrens.
By Kate Crowley