Spring 2020 Critter Encounters: House Wrens

I had no idea what a house wren was until Conall caught a baby wren in the yard two years ago, spitting it out unharmed. That’s when I noticed an upset adult wren on the other side of the fence, in the wildflower garden. Wrens were using a small hole in the siding of my house (left after I disconnected a propane generator in 2006, soon after moving in ). They’ve returned every year since. Clearly this has become their annual summer home.

house wren
Parent wren guarding nest hole to the right of the metal box, barely visible between two lupine, July 3, 2018.

I blogged about my Conall and the fledgling here.

I like that the wrens return to this nest every year. This spring I first noticed the parents flying about the lupine and columbine in my wildflower garden. Later, they chittered at me when I was taking photos and video of the bumblebees before disappearing into their home inside the siding of my home. That’s when I knew they had chicks to protect.

This year I discovered that the adult wrens doing a great imitation of killdeer birds. Killdeer fake an injury (a bad wing, which they drag along the ground in dramatic fashion) while running on the ground, hoping to get a potential nest raider to find them an attractive target and follow them away from their nest. The house wren parents do something similar when they see me, flying from the wildflowers near the nest and landing on the concrete walkway, making themselves obvious and appearing vulnerable, chirping up a storm to ensure I notice them. As I get closer they fly and land again a few feet away, a bit farther from the nest, begging me to follow, repeating this until I’m past their nest, then flying away.

When you’re that small compared to your adversary (me), distraction is probably your best defense.

On the evening of June 23rd I was on dog bomb patrol (the daily chore of shoveling the boys’ poop from the yard over the fence into the field) when I saw a tiny bird fly out of some daisies growing against the house on the dog side of the yard fence. It landed on the wire of the yard fence a couple feet away. It was quickly followed by a second tiny bird. Recognizing them as house wren fledglings from my experience in this very spot two years ago – remembering instantly how Conall found a fledgling in this very spot and caught it in his mouth – I went to retrieve my phone for photos/video. I was pleasantly surprised to see they were where I left them when I returned. (Conall followed me. You can hear his panting in the videos.)

Approaching three fledglings in garden and on fence, heavy breathing of Conall in the background. Two fly off quickly – one appearing to crash into the side of the house before landing on a lupine – while one stays on the wire fence. A parent wren is chittering loudly from the lupine the entire time and seen toward the end.

House wren fledglings are either remarkably fearless, letting me get quite close, or they think their best defense is to remain in place because their flying skills are still rough and they’ve never ventured far from the nest. Hard to tell. But one of their parents was nearby in the lupine as I was moving in for a video closeup, making a lot of noise. Probably screaming like any protective parent, “Come here right now! Get away from that human and those dogs!”

A bit later, I came around that side of the house again and saw three fledglings on the fence.

Similar scene a few minutes later: three fledglings on fence eventually flying off when I come too close. The adult was less vocal this time.

It’s clear this area of fence and yard/garden, close to their nest, has become their proving ground. Can they fly? Can they avoid danger? They’re still under instruction and supervision, getting stronger every day. The amount of bird poop on the wire attests to the time they spend there. It appears they’re on their way to a successful adulthood.

Some information about house wrens:

Paraphrasing from Birds of Idaho – Field Guide by Stan Tekiela: A small all-brown bird with lighter brown markings on tail and wings. Slightly curved brown bill. Often holds its tail erect. They summer all over Idaho, migrating to southern states and Mexico in winter. Female and male line just about any nest cavity; two broods per year. Female and male both incubate and feed young. They eat insects.

And quoting Stan, “A prolific songster, it will sing from dawn until dusk during the mating season. …In spring, the male chooses several prospective nesting cavities and places a few small twigs in each. Female inspects each, chooses one, and finishes the nest building. She will completely fill the next cavity with uniformly small twigs, then line a small depression at the back of cavity with pine needles and grass. Often has trouble fitting long twigs through next cavity hole. Tries many different directions and approaches until successful.”

From the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum’s website Journey North, a list of places house wrens have been known to nest:

    woodpecker holes

    bird houses

    empty cow skulls

    abandoned hornet nests

    deserted swallow nests

    fishing creels

    watering pots

    old hats

    tin cans

    teapots

    flower pots

    old boots

    shoes

    nozzle of a pump

    iron pipe railing

    weather vane

    holes in a wall

    axle of an automobile that was driven every day

Such a versatile and enterprising bird!

If you’re into taxonomy, for the house wren:

Class: Aves (bird)

Order: Passeriformes (perching bird)

Family: Troglodytidae (from the Greek words for those who enter a cave or hole)

Genus: Troglodytes (Troglodytes are reclusive mythical people who live in caves or holes.)

Species: aedon (Aedon in Greek mythology was the Queen of Thebes, whom Zeus changed into a nightingale.)

House wrens are troglodytes! With a connection to Greek mythology! How cool is that?

One banded house wren lived to be nine years old. I like to think this particular pair will keep returning to their nest in the side of my house, producing broods, for years to come. And their progeny will continue after they’re gone.

I hope so. I enjoy having them around.

20 thoughts on “Spring 2020 Critter Encounters: House Wrens”

  1. That is great that you have House Wrens you can look forward to seeing year after year! I put up a bird house on a Sugar Maple tree in my backyard for the House Wrens (I hear them every summer) but I’m not sure if they have used it yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re fun to have around, aren’t they? I hope yours discover the house you provided. I read somewhere that it can take a year for them to use a nest box, i.e. they might check out a new location after already choosing a nest site, using the new one the next year. Which is why I need to get some new nest boxes and place them out now, so my group of wrens can check them out this year. Maybe this year’s fledglings will choose the new boxes next year.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, River! The seldom-observed neat-and-tidy part of me thinks I should prune them back, they’re so tall and unruly this year, taking over everything. The more dominant lazy, let-them-be part of me marvels at how they’re thriving. And spreading! Want some seeds? They’re just starting to seed out.

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  2. When I played the first video my dog Oliver’s head perked up and he became very interested. I think it was Conall panting but it might also have been the birdsong. He loves to stare at birds and will go into a perfectly motionless point for many minutes at a time.

    I love your flower garden. I see lots of bumblebees in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha; I can almost see Oliver doing a head tilt, listening to the video 🙂

      My wildflowers have gone bonkers this year, and the bees are very happy. I’ve never seen so many bumblebees in the lupine and columbine before, usually just honeybees from the hives brought in and placed on a nearby pasture every spring. It’s a constant buzzzzzz out there this year, fun to watch. The bees and wrens seem to get along fine.

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  3. Enjoyed your post. Love Wrens – have several pairs of the House Wrens in my yard every year. They build nests in everything and I just let them. Was picking blueberries off our bushes today and ran across 2 eggs in a nest on one of the blueberry branches. Just picked around it and then left – so mama Wren could come back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Peggy! Glad you get to enjoy the house wrens as well. I’ve never tried to peek inside the hole in the siding to view the nest; I don’t want to disturb parents or babies, but I’d love to see the eggs and hatchlings. Lucky you, to find a nest in your blueberry bushes. Maybe you’ll get some photos when they hatch? I’m determined to set out several nest boxes, with the hope of expanding my “family” of tree swallows and house wrens in coming years.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you, Martha!

      And to think I might never have noticed them at all had Conall not picked up a fledgling in his mouth two years ago – in the exact spot where they’ve been testing their wings this year – and dropped it unharmed when I asked him to. Watching that tiny thing recover from that encounter, and noticing its parent talking up a storm nearby, landing on a fixture near their nest, made me determined to identify them and learn more. Glad I did!

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      1. Uh oh. Sorry. That’s hard to observe. That’s just how some dogs (and cats) are wired. My Maia (a Malamute) didn’t have a soft mouth and once, on a trail run, she caught a small bird and killed it instantly. I was so upset. Her “sibling” Meadow had a soft mouth and several times over the years I’d see her with something in her mouth, tell her to drop it, and some critter – once a bird, another time a pica – would plop onto the trail and skitter away unharmed. Thankfully Conall has a soft mouth. Finn doesn’t, but he also is so surprised if he actually gets his mouth on something living (like a chipmunk) that he usually drops it in shock and it lives to tell the tale.

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      2. It doesn’t bother me. Huskies are hardcore predators and my wolf/husky actually killed one of my cats and stayed with the body until I got home from school so she could give it to me.

        And Bear? I don’t know. She never got a bird before Teddy came so the jury is out on who’s catching the birds. But if HE’S catching and killing them, he’s giving them to Bear or leaving them lay. She always gives it to me. I say “Thanks, I think.” and give her a cookie.

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  4. Wrens, I’m not sure which variety return to our bird houses every year. I’m not sure how many of the babies actually make it to adulthood. My two cats are constantly dropping their remains on the back porch. You would think the birds would find a different house to live in.

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    1. Sorry Jeff, can’t “like” this scenario 😦

      Move the bird house or get rid of it! It’s sort of like having an unfenced pool on your property, what we in the legal world call an “attractive nuisance” because it invites terrible things to happen.

      Like

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