House Wren

A male house wren (Troglodytes aedon) will often build several nests in an attempt to attract a mate. Each spring a male house wren spends days cleaning out and building a nest in a wren box outside my kitchen window. Then he sits on the top of the box and sings his little heart out – alas, to no avail! After several days the little guy gives up and moves on, leaving us without an occupant for the nest box. Leonard, over the years, has tried everything he can think of to help a male house wren please some female: different boxes, different locations, different construction materials. Nothing works!!

Meanwhile a friend about two miles down the road (Modoc County CA) has a nest box on a roof support beam just outside of her front door. Every year a male arrives, builds a nest and attracts a female immediately. The pair then raises two, even three, broods per summer in the box. What is it about our friend’s location that appeals more than ours?? The irony is that Leonard and I gave her the nest box as a gift years ago. These pictures are of “her” wrens.

A house wren is a very small bird that can best be described as effervescent, energetic, or lively. It is constantly active, hopping about in tangles, shrubs or low branches. Its trilling song brightens spring days while the more subdued call can be heard all summer. Found throughout the Western Hemisphere, the house wren has one of the largest breeding ranges of any bird in the New World. The North American population is a short migrant moving into the southern states and Mexico during the winter. South American house wrens are year-round residents. Tolerant of humans, house wrens can be found wherever there are open clearings surrounded by brushy trees and shrubs.

There is much variation in the plumage and calls of this common bird. Generally it is overall brown with the undersides being more gray-brown. The tail and wings have darker brown barring. House wrens have a fairly long, curved beak and a pale eye ring. The longish tail is often cocked. They are cute little things.

The house wren builds its nest in tree holes, nest boxes, cracks or crevices in buildings or even in human debris such as cans and discarded shoes. The nest consists of a depression in twigs lined with feathers, hair, fur, string or plastic bits, among other materials. House wren nests often become infested with mites and other parasites that feed on the young birds. The clever house wren adds spider eggs sacs to its nest. When the spider eggs hatch the young spiders eat the nest parasites.  Although house wrens are very small, they will fight much larger birds, such as bluebirds, for a particular nest site, even dragging the eggs and young out of an already established nest.

Three to ten white or grayish eggs with reddish brown freckles or splotches are incubated for 9 to 16 days. The hatchlings are naked and pink with only a few downy feathers on the head and back. At first the baby house wrens’ eyes are closed and they are almost immobile and helpless. After 15 to 17 days in the nest they fledge. Almost immediately after the first brood takes flight the parents start their second clutch of the season.

House wrens eat insects including grasshoppers, beetles, flies, mites, earwings, and also eat spiders. I wonder if the spiders ridding the nest of parasites eventually become supper themselves?

One picture is of a house wren bringing nest material for its first clutch last May. The remainder of the photographs were taken recently (July) as the parents fed and cared for their second brood. Note the grasshopper about to be fed to the babies and the wren removing some fecal material from the nest.

I wish we could get a pair of house wrens to nest on our property. Any ideas?

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5 Responses to House Wren

  1. Pingback: House Wren Nest | The Nature Niche

  2. I’m surprised that your male has trouble attracting a female – usually nest cavities are the limiting factor for these little guys, so I’d expect a female to jump at a quality nest site. Is your nest box the same as your neighbor’s? How large is the entrance hole? A small entrance hole will reduce predation risk, as will the placement of the box – perhaps put it on a beam or a pole, if it isn’t already. The female might pass on the box if it looked risky to her.
    When I studied House Wrens in NY, they nested readily in very plain nestboxes placed at the top of greased metal poles (to make it harder for mice to climb up). They aren’t usually picky…

    • gingkochris says:

      We have tried almost everything. The males love our nest boxes, but the females always nix them. I know Leonard uses the recommended hole and structure sizes, etc. in their construction. These are functional boxes, not cutsey commercial models. I do like your idea about using a greased pole and we will try that next spring. Thanks for the suggestion. Also, next spring I will put one box ON the deck. That may work! As an aside, although one friend has great luck with house wrens, another about ten miles away as the crow flies mimics our experiences. I appreciate your input–

  3. Lin says:

    We had a male wren build a nest in our birdhouse…a female came along and they were visible for days in the tree where the birdhouse is…then they disappeared. No clue why.

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