House Wrens

For such a small bird, they sure are vocal.  The song – an energetic bubbly burst of music.  The call – scolding incessant chatter.

House Wren

Being small, they are also very apt to escape before we can get them out of the net when banding… or before we have finished gathering data.  I’ll bet there are many House Wren records with no number in the body mass column!

House Wren Nest - side viewThis year at Audubon, we tried something a little different with regard to nest boxes.  We moved all the boxes with 1.5-inch holes to the middle of the field to attract Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds.  Along the edge of the field we placed boxes with 1.25-inch holes – big enough for House Wrens and Black-capped Chickadees – both of whom seem to prefer to be a little closer to the brush and trees.  And, to facilitate monitoring and photographing, I asked John to make me boxes with hinged roofs, as well as hinged side doors.  (Thanks, John!)  House Wrens in particular are difficult to monitor from the front or side because they tend to fill the box so full of sticks.  With a hinged roof, I can look in from the top!  All aspects of this plan are working very well! I have no House Wrens in the boxes I intended for Tree Swallows and Bluebirds, and they ARE so much easier to monitor!

House Wren Nest with EggsHouse Wrens start construction of a nest by laying a foundation of sticks in the bottom of the natural cavity or nest box.  The nest will then be lined with softer material before egg-laying begins.  The eggs are so tiny – like the Easter malted milk eggs – and there can be 4-8 of them (or more), making you wonder how such tiny birds will feed so many mouths once they hatch.

Mom lays one egg each morning until she has a complete clutch.  She will start incubating the eggs when the 2nd or 3rd to last egg is laid – so hatching could happen over the span of 1-4 days.  When they hatch, they are pink and featherless with eyes tight shut.  Slowly the feathers come in – at first all encased in little shafts, and eventually breaking loose.

House Wren - Baby Bird Face

House Wren - Baby in the hand

Both mom and dad will feed the young for 12-18 days in the nest, and another 12-14 days after fledging.  A pair may have 2 or 3 broods in a season.  I never open Wren boxes after about day 9 or 10, because the babies are apt to fledge prematurely.  (OK, once I did… and I had to scramble to find all the babies and put them back!)

Despite their size, House Wrens are very fierce competitors for nest sites, which is why I tried to provide them their own boxes along the edge of the field.  Unfortunately, titmice and chickadees also like the edges of the fields.  I know for a fact that at least one Black-Capped Chickadee nest with eggs was removed from a box.  I assume this was done by the House Wren, as they are known for this kind of behavior, and because the box was next filled with sticks.

In the field habitat, we pair boxes so that if a Tree Swallow gets one, the other will be open for a Bluebird.  I’ve never seen that strategy listed for House Wrens and Chickadees/Titmice.  Given the House Wren’s habit of stuffing nearby cavities with sticks, providing paired boxes in shrubby habitat probably would do no good.

Can anybody out there suggest strategies for making sure the Chickadees get a place to nest, too?

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12 thoughts on “House Wrens

  1. Great post about the wrens – we have a few of them around our house (can’t seem to get them to nest in any of our boxes though – only false nests). Maybe I’ll clear out the boxes and move them to see if they are more appealing for the next brood. As for the adults, they make quite a racket every morning, but I still like ’em.

  2. You have a really interesting blog. I used to live in the jersey suburbs and I would see tons and tons of these birds because my mom used to put bird feeders out for them and we would often watch them while eating breakfast. Nice to be able to see these creatures in the wild. I just wanted to inform that everyone should know how to change a tire because I didn’t and was stuck for hours when i went on a camping trip.

  3. Very interesting, Jennifer! You are much farther along in your tactics for accommodating song birds with nest boxes than I am. My bird boxes always have a lot of competition, with chickadees seeming to come out second best. I’ve even had bluebirds build nests right over chickadee nests, complete with eggs. I am going to try pairing nest boxes in the future and going to use some of your ideas to be able to view the birds more effectively. I have had poor success with keeping bluebirds in my bird boxes if I do check their nests. At least I think it may have been my alarming the bluebirds that has caused them to leave a nest of eggs, never to return. So I just don’t look in an active bluebird nest box, but observe them from a distance.
    Thanks so much for all the knowledge, great photos and informative sources that your blog imparts.

  4. It seems our house wrens abandoned the nest, and there are at least 5 tiny, hungry little birds in the bird house on our back deck. They were peeping ALL day, and I can see their little beaks opened wide! ! What should I do?

    • Warning: Nobody likes my answers to these kinds of questions. I would leave them alone and see if mom and dad come back. If they really and truly don’t, I would let nature take its course. Birds have multiple broods with multiple babies per brood for a reason. Once you are sure there is no more activity in the next, remove the nest and hope the next trial is more successful.

  5. the house wren parents seem to have deserted three babies in a nest box in my neighbor’s back yard. I finally could stand the fussing of the babies no more, so i placed just plain scrambled, room temp. eggs in each of the three mouths. the offering was greedily accepted, and before i knew it, all three fledged and climbed first up a stockade fence, and then up the trunk of a very tall hemlock!!! they mostly stayed together for the first couple hours or so. Helpless? I don’t think so. they appeared to know exactly what they should do, and the parents never returned. They did not act very afraid of me, and i felt good that I may have given them a needed protein boost. They appeared to be quite healthy.

  6. Hello,
    We found a nest made of small twigs. It is just sitting in a ladder we have hanging sideways up on the side of our garage. There is one light cream colored egg about the size of a quarter.
    The nest has no softness, just the small twigs loosely meshed together. What type of bird would have a nest like that?

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