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House wrens, good bird or bad bird
June 23, 2008

The first week end of summer has just past us by.

The weather was on the mild side for much of last week, and a couple of days were down in the 60's. A bit chilly for this time of year.

Even for southwest Michigan.

I don't mind the mild temperatures, it makes for sitting outside more enjoyable.

Two weeks after all the rain and we are in need of a good soaker.

It seems like storms brew all around here, but nothing for us.

Last year it was so dry that there was little in the way of wild fruits for birds.

If we can get a timely rain or two, there will be plenty in the way of wild strawberries and raspberries around here for the birds to feast on.

Walks with Akita (Keet) are limited to certain areas now.

A small dog could get swallowed up in the tall grass and weeds.

Not to mention I hear there are snakes out there old enough to vote :-)

We are still working on Ziggy the poodle pup and walking him. Sometimes the smallest sound or noise will freak him out and he's done for.

"Gardening for Wildlife" Prayers continue for all the good people in the flood stricken regions.

Natural disasters like the heavy rains and floods of the Mid-West have global ramifications.

Hey, we help feed the world.

Natural disasters also effect our wildlife far and wide.

Wildlife disasters don't make the headlines, but imagine the untold loss of wildlife.

Shore birds like Sandhill cranes have lost their nestlings.

Other ground birds like Meadow larks and Killdeer, nests washed away.

Baby mammals are gone (deer, bunnies, skunks, opossum, etc.).

If you live near these regions, you may soon notice a lack of birds and notice an influx of four legged creatures roaming your neighborhood.

They lose their offspring and need a place to live and the closest dry land and food sources are what they need.

Birds that have a single nest may not bother trying again. The Sandhill crane is done for this year.

"Nature" if forgiving however, barring another flood in the same region within the next couple of years, wildlife populations will rebound nicely.

Natural disasters have been happening since the days of Noah. Barring man made disasters, wildlife bounces back rather quickly.

(The above picture is a partial of the pond near our home. Th city put a fence around much of it to dter geese. It has worked on the most part. I still enjoy herons and other wildlife though.)

Do you notice there are fewer bird songs these days?

Not birds, but their songs.

Sure you have a Robin or two.

You may hear a Cardinal's song.

A Cat bird in the nearby trees or woods.

Maybe a finch song sparrow, Thrush or an Oriole or Bluebird.

But Nothing like the chorus of springtime.

By and large, most birds aren't as loud or vocal now.

For many birds, there isn't a big reason for song an dance.

Territories have been established, mating was successful and several birds produce just the one brood, so there isn't a real reason to be showing off.

Some species of birds are already getting the itch to head South already.

You may see Jays fly by or visit your feeders in a hurry, but rarely will you hear them this time of year.

Stealth is a way of live or should I say survival with birds.

If you can't hear me, you can't see me type of thinking.

Still, there is enough song and activity to brighten my days.

Just to marvel at our Creator's handy work should brighten any day.

There is one bird that is full of song in my area.

One of the late comers you might say.

Still, he fills the day with song from sun up to sun down.

The diminutive House wren.

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)

A tiny brown bird 4 to 5 inches long.

Yes, a small bird with a loud song.

From sun up to sun down, day after day, after day, this small bird goes on and on.

As soon as the male appears on the breeding ground his arrival is announced by the territory song.

The male isolates himself and establishes himself in a definite area.

Territory is important as a means by which birds become paired and mated and an insurance for adequate nesting sites and food supply.

The process of courtship and mating can scarcely be separated in the house wren from the phenomena of territory, as they are so vitally interwoven and intrinsically related.

Territory is established and defended chiefly by song. . . . The "territory song" of the house wren is but little different from the "nesting song," and both songs announce to other birds that the territory is occupied.

The male will give his territory song over and over again, day after day, in a purely mechanical manner until a female comes into view.

Not until then does he show emotional excitement.

The song is given more energetically, the mating song is interspersed and males from adjoining territory may tune in.

Competition between two males in adjoining territories becomes most vigorous when an unattached female enters the area.

The male whose song is most stimulating to her ears would seem to have the advantage.

In addition to song, territories are also defended by the wren's assuming threatening postures sometimes accompanied with scolding, chasing, or physical combat.

The first couple of years after Yolanda's accident, I was working two full-time jobs. I don't have to tell you that sleep was at a premium.

Well, silly me hung a wren house in the small tree outside our bedroom window.

It wasn't long and I found another place to hang the nest box.

When a person needs sleep, even birds can get under your skin.

Courtship: With the arrival of the female serious courtship begins.

There is an extensive repertoire of songs and call notes, which are used for various occasions and for purposes of intercommunication.

Both males and females have a habit of quivering their wings when excited, which is most pronounced during the mating process but is evident also when the birds are disturbed or scolding.

The position of the male's tale is also a good indicator of the degree of his excitement.

During ordinary singing it is kept lowered, but when his courtship song is intensified, or at times when he is scolding, the tail is tilted upward.

During copulation it is vertical or tilted forward at an acute angle.

Much excitement is manifested during the inspection of available nesting sites, some of which have already been selected and partially filled with sticks by the male.

The female has opinions of her own resulting in violent domestic controversies that intersperse their passionate courtship antics (Even in the bird world, imagine that).

The female may refuse the nest offered by the male; sometimes she may accept the nesting box but, disapproving of the nesting material or the way it was arranged by the male, proceeds to throw it out stick by stick.

Both birds do their part in the building of the final nest, but the male spends more time singing and guarding the nesting territory.

After the female is busily engaged with her incubation duties the activities of the male are less important since all he does is to sing rather mechanically.

Occasionally he spends his time carrying sticks into some nearby box in the pretense of building a new nest, and while doing so he sings his courtship song.

In fact, the building of the extra nest has been thought to be one of the manifestations of his peculiar courtship.

While doing so, he often acquires a second mate while the first is still busy with household duties.

Nesting: The House wren stands out preeminently as one of the most eccentric of our birds in the choice of its nesting site.

In fact, its choice of nesting place exhibits such extreme variation that it is difficult to select one that can be considered typical.

The primitive environment of the house wren was the woodlands and its nesting site the natural cavity of some tree or stump.

The nest is seldom exposed, but generally the requirements of the wren demand an enclosure that conceals the nest on all sides except the point of entrance.

These birds have readily adapted themselves to the environment of man reaching a state of semi-domestic life.

They have availed themselves of houses constructed for their special use or lacking these have built their nests in various contraptions incidentally provided either inside or outside of buildings.

They are not particular and are just as apt to accept an old can in a garbage heap or a mailbox left open rather than a nest box set in the midst of a beautiful flower garden.

It is not uncommon for the wren to make use of the nests of other birds.

Reports show House wrens using old barn swallow and robin nests built on platforms and over hangs as a structure for their own stick nest.

The House wren has the habit of frequently building dummy or extra nests, a trait common to other members of the wren family.

Many of these nests are built by the male prior to the arrival of the female in the spring, but a mated male may use its energy in building extra nests in the neighborhood of the one where his mate is incubating the eggs.

Even if a male is unsuccessful in obtaining a mate, he may continue to build several nests during the course of the season.

The Dark Side of House Wrens

This small bird with the big song can be a wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak.

The evidence that House Wrens sometimes destroy the eggs and otherwise interfere with the nesting of other birds is indisputable, but it is not so positively realized that this is only one of the factors we must take into consideration in forming a judgment.

House wrens will destroy eggs, kill babies and even build nests on top of live babies.

Many cavity dwelling birds have fallen victim to the House wren's aggressive behavior.

My personal experiencee with a House wren killing and disposing of three young Chickadees before I discovered what was going on.

Now Chickadees are my favorite backyard bird, so you can imagine how angry i was.

Research shows however, that in the natural order of things that healthy environments, certain bird populations are not effected by the House wren's actions.

Many experts claim the wren has superior intelligence to display such aggression in order to survive.

Remember, House wrens are native birds and are protected under the "Migratory Bird Treaty Act".

If you want to discourage House wrens from taking overnest boxestboxes, you can remove the "Dummy nests".

Dummy nests (no lined nest cup with feathers or eggs) may be removed and destroyed.

Dummy nests generally consist of loose sticks only (no lining of feathers or fibers.)

For Bluebird houses, avoid marginal habitat like woods edge.

The picture to the right is part of a field nearby.

The field borders a woods and the pond.

It is ideal habitat for all kinds of birds (even wrens) and wildlife.

The path you see is one of several well used deer runs.

House wrens do have a huge plus side.

The small plain bird with melodic song isn't just another nest thief, however.

These late arrivals to your backyard are late because they are almost 98% insect feeding birds.

High energy birds need a lot of food to keep the engine running and that my friend means copious amount of grass hoppers, mosquitoes, and just about any bug around.

Yes, there are pros and cons on House wrens and I'm not sure if there is one true line to follow.

You may enjoy them or despise them.

Sure in some regions they destroy several nests and kill off babies, but not to the point of disrupting populations of other native birds.

It is all part of natures cycle until we intervene.

Indeed, research shows, by adding wren houses to your yard you increase the population which in turn adds to the situation.

Yet we enjoy the songs and like the idea they are always on the hunt for another bug.

I suppose it all evens out in the end doesn't it?

Now here are some fast facts on House wrens.

Description Size: 11-13 cm (4-5 in)

Wingspan: 17 cm (7 in)

Weight: 10-12 g (0.35-0.42 ounces)

Small brown songbird.

Moderately short tail often held cocked over back.

Thin pointed bill.

Head and back moderate to dark brown; rufous to gray-brown.

Throat and chest light gray brown.

Wings and tail with black barring.

Indistinct pale eyeline.

Some barring on flanks and under tail.

Sex Differences

Sexes alike.


Similar to adult.

Similar Species

"Winter wren" is smaller and darker, with a shorter tail, stronger barring on the belly and flanks, and a more distinct, but still dull eyestripe.

"Carolina and Bewick's wrens" have paler bellies and distinct white eyestripes.

Summer Range: Breeds from southern Canada southward to central California, central New Mexico, northern Arkansas, and northern Georgia. Other forms found from Mexico southward throughout South America and the West Indies.

Winter Range: Winters in the southern United States and Mexico, from California, Texas, and central Arkansas, to southern Maryland and southward to Gulf Coast and throughout Florida.


Breeds along forest edges and in open woodlands, city parks, and residential areas with trees.

Winters in thickets, shrubby areas, residential yards and gardens, chaparral, and riparian areas.

There is a year round population in Latin and South America.


Small terrestrial invertebrates.

Gleans insects from leaves and shrubs.

Well, there you have the scoop on this tiny ubiquitous bird.

It's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your thought for the week.

The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality.

John Quincy Adams

Now if that doesn't give you a reason to smile, what does?

Can you imagine, a form of immortality?

Something of you or from you is passed on from generation to generation.

From family, friends and co-workers.

All the lives that you have touched and influenced, is passed on and on.

Why not pass on a nice big smile.

That's right, teach others how to smile and the importance of a smile.


Until next time.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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