Spring Wrens…Sometimes

Exploring Kansas Outdoors

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Years ago, we had a wren house hung under the eaves just outside my office window. We watched a pair of wrens raise a family there for a couple years, then they never returned. I took the old tattered house down and didn’t have a wren house for a while. Two years ago, I got a pattern from a friend who is a very avid back-yard birder. I build two new houses, hung one at the same place outside my office window, and the other under the eaves of our workshop. We had no renters last year, and this spring, I guess a robin decided the house on the shop would make a nice two-story condo, and built a nest on the roof. She raised 3 chicks up there, but still no wrens. I’m suspicious they might not like the location any more because of the plethora of Baltimore Orioles we now feed nearby.

House wrens are cocky, brownish little birds with long pointy beaks that can easily be recognized by the way their tails point upward at a jaunty little angle. Next to Purple Martins, House Wrens seem to be the second most popular backyard songbird home owners like to provide with housing. Having wintered in the south, male wrens arrive here several days before the females, around mid-April, intent upon staking out their territories early and having a nice selection of summer homes for the ladies to choose from when they arrive. They take very well to the homes we provide for them, but wrens have been seen nesting in many places other than those nifty houses we build. Their nests have been found in overturned flower pots in garden sheds, in the small hole in the center of a ball of twine, in a large abandoned hornet’s nest, in old shoes, boots and hats, and in the pocket of a scare crow’s coat. The style of the house doesn’t seem to be important, as long as the interior is kept fairly small, as wrens are cavity nesters and feel secure in small tight places. I found directions showing entrance holes anywhere from 7/8 to 1 1/8 inches in diameter. Smaller holes keep out starlings, sparrows and other bigger birds. I found results of a study suggesting that slotted holes seem to work well and are evidently appreciated by the males, as slots allow them easier access into the house with nesting materials in their mouths.

When the male arrives (often to the same general nesting area each year,) he chooses more than one nesting site and immediately sets about stuffing them all full of sticks and twigs. After he has successfully wooed a female, she makes her choice from the options he’s provided and adds a lining of feathers, hair or wool to his bachelor pad and moves in. Male wrens are known to literally stuff these chosen sites so full of material that the female has to remove some just to get inside. One writer had watched a male wren in her backyard as he crammed a house so full of sticks they stuck out the hole. When the female arrived, she threw most of it back out into a pile on the ground below. While she was gone to hunt for suitable lining material, the male put one of his precious twigs back inside, and when the female arrived back, she again threw the stick out into the pile. I guess it’s that “When mammas happy everyone’s happy” thing.

Wrens often raise 2 broods a year. Five to eight tiny ½ inch eggs are laid, 13 to 15 days later, the hungry youngsters hatch, and 12 to 18 days after hatching are ready to fly from the nest. A wren’s diet is primarily insects and for those 12 to 18 days the parents’ life is put on hold as they strive to keep a house full of ravenous little insect guzzlers fed. One observer (who had way too much time on their hands and obviously a worse social life

than even I) counted over 1000 feeding trips made by a pair of wrens in one day! Just one of many good reasons to place wren houses near your garden.

A friend recently told me there seems to be a little controversy whether to clean wren houses or not. All my research shows that wren houses SHOULD be cleaned out each fall after the birds are done with them for the year. Cleaning helps rid them of any parasites, and removes any old nesting debris and anything else leftover after raising a couple families of hungry chicks.

I used to scoff at back-yard birders, but now I spend time on our deck most mornings with binoculars and a Kansas bird book handy, listening and learning to identify all the finches, orioles and other songbirds that frequent our seed and jelly feeders. Beautiful, colorful back-yard songbirds, yet more reminders of God’s marvelous Creation…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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