House Wrecker Wren

Note from the Currant Farm:
The House Wrecker Wren

The relative calm and quiet of winter is quickly evolving into a flurry of feathers here on the Currant Farm. When I take Reno out at 05:00, it’s still dark but the Carolina wrens, Robins, Bluebirds and Red-Winged blackbirds are already greeting the day with emotional operas flowing down from the still barren trees. The population swells every day this time of year as more migrants return to their summer home. Breeding and nesting activity among the winged community is in high gear. The bird houses around my vegetable garden have all been claimed and every bush and tree is being investigated for the perfect arrangement of branches upon which to weave a nest. Unremarkable bits of dried grass, old moss, twigs and even coarse hair shed from our bulls, Macduff and Macbeth, all become discovered treasures with which to twine complex architecture sturdy enough to withstand punishing winds and torrential spring rains while gently coddling several naked newborns.

In nature, life is rarely serene. In addition to preparing for the next generation, there are often battles for territory. Birds commonly chase off other species and even their own from their nesting sites and hunting territories. In fact, certain breeds of birds can get amazingly aggressive while protecting their home territory. But if I asked you which specie was one of the deadliest in its effort to keep other birds out of its nesting area, you might answer a hawk or an owl or even the hot-headed crows or blue jays. But you’d be wrong. The bird responsible for destroying more eggs of its neighbors than perhaps any other is the diminutive, high spirited, enthusiastic House wren.

Often amateur birders refer to little non-descript birds as an LBJs, “Little Brown Jobs” because of the subdued brown coloring and absence of any notable flash of color, The House Wren is the typical LBJ. At 4 inches, they’re quite small and compact, with short-wings and a curved beak.

They’re easily recognized by their tail which is often pointed up to the sky. As their name indicates, House wrens are very common backyard birds preferring to live close to people. They are cavity nesters and the males will build in available bird boxes or the cavities of trees but just as likely you might spot them in almost any kind of enclosed space, abandoned cars, flowerpots or even drainpipes. Last year I found a nest in an old boot out in one of the barns. The construction begins with twigs and then a cup is built into a depression in the twigs and carefully lined with feathers, moss and grasses as well as animal hair, spider egg sacs, string and even snakeskin.

Wordsworth noted:
Among the dwellings framed by birds
In field or forest with nice care,
Is none that with the little Wren's
In snugness may compare.

They usually lay a half dozen or more white eggs with reddish brown dots. The female does most of the incubation. Each male will commonly have 2 or 3 females sitting on nests and once the eggs hatch, he’ll help all of the families with the feeding. The fledglings leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching and once the young have mastered flight and have learned to hunt for beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, flies and the occasional spider or millipede, the female has done her job with that family and she’ll then breed again and produce a second clutch sometimes with a different mate.

This is an active little bird energetically bouncing among the branches of shrubs and thickets. The effervescent song, which is sung by both genders, has been described Mnemonically as “Rush-and-Jumble” and each bird will bubble out the notes up to a dozen times per minute.

But this delicate bundle of feathers has a dark side. While strolling the edge of the woods here on the Currant Farm last week, I spotted what looked like a perfectly good black capped chickadee egg lying on the ground. I looked around for the small tree cavity it might have come from and didn’t see any. I examined the egg and found that it had a neat little hole in it. The House wren is the consummate saboteur. The male is constantly defending his territory. If another bird nests and lays eggs in the area he will sneak into the nest or cavity when the owner is away and poke holes in each of the eggs killing them. He’ll then carry off some of the punctured eggs and drop them around the area. And, as if that’s not enough, he’ll return to the nest and destroy it so that the owner of the nest gets the message. He’ll wipe out any nest he can find in the area eradicating families of many species of birds and all the while building his own precious nests.

Cheers from the Currant Farm,