This summer we enjoyed watching wren couples set up housekeeping at Winding Pathways. One pair nested in a small box under our porch ceiling, while another chose a box a few feet outside the dining room window.
The world is big, bright and intriguing.
We watched these tiny, industrious birds make dozens of trips bringing sticks to make nests. Then, for a few weeks, we saw them infrequently. Only the female visited to lay eggs. Once her clutch was complete, she incubated them for a couple of weeks until they hatched. Then our fun began.
Wren parenting is hard work. Every two or three minutes one parent or the other brought juicy caterpillars and leggy bugs to feed the rapidly growing brood. Baby wrens hatch helpless and blind, but in just a couple of weeks, they grow almost as big as mom and dad. Finally, it’s time to fledge.
On the morning of August 9, we sat on the deck watching a young wren peer out the entrance hole, begging for breakfast. Mom or dad brought bugs, but mostly they urged the youngster, and its siblings, to take the plunge and abandon the only home they knew.
It’s scary. The nest is secure and safe. Mom and dad bring food and keep it clean. Then they expect their kids to leave and earn their own living in a world fraught with danger.
Our young wrens peered outside for a day or two before fluttering into the world. Huddling in low lying vegetation they called hungrily. Fortunately for wrens and many other birds, the adults help them out. We continued to hear these “branchers” calling in the nearby woods and caught glimpses of the parents bringing bugs to them. Slowly the babies figured it out.
After a few days, the young re-appeared around the yard, flying awkwardly. They have much to learn, and all sorts of perils to avoid. The parents continue to support them and many will wing south as the weather cools. We’ll watch for their return next April.
This year millions of American teenagers and new college grads are in the same fix as young wrens. Childhood and Youth are over. Peering out the door and knowing they must leave is scary. It’s tough enough to leave home during normal times, but this year coronavirus is making the transition extra challenging.
Young people heading for college don’t know whether classes will even be held. If so, will they be online or in-person? Will college include exposure to a virus that could sicken or kill? Recent high school and college grads seeking a job face different challenges. High unemployment and lurking viruses can make finding work difficult and, perhaps, dangerous. Join the military? Move across the country for a job? That’s perilous, also. Nothing seems safe. Everything’s confusing.
Like the young wrens, parents still help guide their offspring, providing support, advice, and encouragement as the “young” leave the nest. We send good wishes to the youthful wrens that started life at Winding Pathways and to young people about to launch into a confusing and challenging world. May they all thrive.
This baby is checking out the scenery.
Parent encourages the baby.
The parent dangles tasty morsels, forcing the baby to come outside the nest box.
This huge bug is a mouthful!
A short first flight.
This wren fluttered to the ground below the next box.
Guest Bloggers Reply
Readers offered their activities in The Great Pause. Most were home-centered with some careful forays into society. And, of course, connecting with self and nature.
SA: My mother was in a nursing home in Bettendorf. Visitors were prohibited but I was able to wave to her and blow kisses through a glass door. After 3 weeks of isolation from family, she passed away on March 31. We could not have a proper funeral due to the virus. It was not how I imagined her life would end. My husband still had to go to work every day so my days were spent in solitary isolation.
Gardening Offers Solace
Looking out at the world.
Once the weather warmed up, I spent hours in the garden and puttering in the flower beds. I cleaned out my garden shed and found an old birdhouse one of the boys had built-in Cub Scouts 20 years ago, I painted it and hung it in our ash tree. A wren immediately investigated.
I had twice-weekly Zoom meetings for an organization I belong to. I acquired the Audible version of Stephen King’s unabridged book “The Stand”–which I read back in the late 70s–but at 1,000 pages, I chose to listen to it instead. (That took 45 hours.) Listening to it while I cooked, cleaned house, and drove around was entertaining and frightening, considering the subject matter.
Connecting with Nature
Leisure in the pasture.
Steve and I walked outside every day, hiked the Amana Nature Trail, Pleasant Creek Park, FW Kent Park, and others. On one cold, overcast day, we climbed into the car and drove backcountry gravel roads in the area east of Solon, with no idea where they led or where we would end up. We were rewarded with beautiful pastoral landscapes, green pastures dotted with peeks of sunshine between dark clouds, and a delightful trio of baby goats scampering in a pen next to the road. We were able to get out of the car and interact with them for a while. Such a joy in these dark times to watch new life scamper about, trying out their legs.
“Music Speaks Louder Than Words….”
JH: Well, I’ve spent almost every day since the middle of March on return from Florida playing every single piece of music that’s been stacked in the closet for many moons. I’ve kept certain pieces aside so that I can call a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a business person, and play and sing a song to them over the phone. Some of the music is from 1897 and much of it is from the early 1900s to the mid-1970s. It’s been a total blessing to me and everyone has been most appreciative and one friend shed a few tears because her mom and dad’s favorite song was “Cruising Down the River” which I didn’t know when I selected it.
I’ve also written numerous Corner Shot articles and sent them to the Roanoke Times. Several of my articles have been posted in the master gardener’s newsletter. I’ll keep on keeping until we can mingle and hug one another again.
Self Care & Connecting
KK: Submitted to cataract surgery and nursed eyes back to health. Put in many eye drops. Learned a new healing skill. Spend too many hours on Zoom. Wore and washed the same few clothes over and over. I practiced gratitude.
Calming through writing.
Joined a new church in another city via Zoom. Ventured out to a couple of restaurants open at 50% and ate outside. Found a Tai Chi class on the labyrinth at the park. Made finger labyrinths. Washed clothes. Did much personal growth work. Wrote someone a letter and mailed it via snail mail. Received a letter in return. Planned a retreat that may not happen this year. Cleaned out desk and found someone else’s treasure, mailed it to them. Washed clothes. Did online Yoga. Washed more clothes….
As lingering snow banks melt we look forward to the arrival of our favorite spring guests. They arrive in late April, but we put out the welcoming mat a month ahead.
We welcome the wrens each spring
For many years a pair of house wrens have nested right outside our dining room window. We laugh at their bubbly energy and enjoy watching them bring caterpillar after caterpillar into their home to feed growing babies. In some years we get to watch as the youngsters peer outside their nest box before taking their first awkward and short flight.
How Many Species live in the United States?
Sometimes the Carolina wrens stay around in winter.
House wrens are only one of six wren species that live in the United States. We’re fortunate to have both house and Carolina wrens in our
yard. Carolinas don’t migrate, so we sometimes see one feeding on suet in winter. House wrens are, perhaps, wiser and leave Iowa each October to winter down along the Gulf Coast.
It’s almost magical when the house wrens return each late April. Suddenly the air is filled with their delightful song. We usually hear them before we spot their nervous energy as they seek a nesting location. The nest boxes we set up in March are their welcome mat.
Making a Birdhouse
Few birds are as easy to lure into a nest box as house wrens. In winter we make new ones out of scrap lumber. Wrens aren’t fussy. Many elaborate nest boxes can be purchased but all it takes to make one is a four-foot section of 1X6 inch pine lumber, a few nails, and simple tools. We like the plans posted on Birdwatching Bliss.
We’re crude carpenters but the birds don’t seem to mind if the joints aren’t perfect.
Many wren house plans call for a circular opening of 1 1/8th inch but we’ve had great success with a one-inch hole. Larger holes welcome messy house sparrows. We also never place a perch in front of the entry hole. Wrens are acrobatic flyers and have no trouble entering a hole without a perch nearby.
Few birds are as entertaining as bubbly house wrens, but there’s another reason we love having them around. They’re voracious predators of insects that love feasting on our garden crops, so our wren tenants help boost our vegetable crop.
Wrens start nesting almost as soon as they arrive. Their nest is carefully made of small sticks that nestle a few reddish spotted eggs that hatch in about two weeks. Babies grow like fury and leave the nest by the end of June. We then clean the nest out of the box, and often the eager parents produce a second brood in the late summer.
No bird is as likely to fascinate a child as a pair of bubbly wrens nesting in full view just outside the window.
Checking the nest box.
Eggs are spotted reddish
Looking out at the world.
A male bluebird flies from the nest to bring back a snack for its mate.
Here’s a fun guest blog by friends, Gordon and Nancy, about their husbandry of birds on their “Little Acreage.”
“A few years ago my wife and I decided we wanted to attract wildlife to our little acreage. We already had deer and wild turkeys so we decided to try to attract some Bluebirds. We went on line to see where the best spot would be to place some houses to attract them.
“We then went to the Indian Creek Nature Center and bought a couple of houses. We felt that we needed the houses for bluebirds and the Center could use the donation. We placed four houses on the edge of the hay field.
“As time went on, all we saw were sparrows using the nest so we thought nothing would become of our houses. Then, a couple of years ago, a pair of Bluebirds started checking out the nest. But, we never found any eggs.
Four eggs! Photo: G&N Bena
“Earlier this year we looked in the house and nothing. A few days later we found these four eggs! What a great surprise for us. We now monitor the nest to watch the progress of our new friends.
Checking the other houses we found that a pair of wrens decided the house was satisfactory for their
Feeding Young. Photo: G&N Bena
new home and I think they have at least seven eggs. We will be monitoring this nest, also. The other two houses have nests but I think they are sparrow nest. We decided to leave them because they need a home, also.”
Gordon and Nancy
Editor’s Note: Sialis.org has a fascinating set of pictures showing the progression of raising and fledging Bluebird young.
The wrens use just their beak and claws to layer sticks and then feathers from other birds to make a cozy safe nest to raise young.
Just ten days ago the wren parents fledged the babies from the box on our deck. After we knew they were safely gone, Rich unbolted and cleaned out the next. What an amazing feat of engineering! With just a beak and claws, the wrens fashioned a comfy, warm home to sit on eggs and raise young. All was quiet for the rest of the week. The birds had all dispersed.
The past few days we have noticed activity in the High Bush Cranberry, on the deck, around the pond and at the feeders. Today, definite mating activity as up to five wrens competed for attention, displayed mating moves and two began rebuilding the box on the deck. In and out flew the wren gathering small sticks by the pond and placing them in the box. So, it looks like a pair plans to start one more brood.
Later in the year, the Carolina Wren will grace our yard. Larger and more distinctive, it seems to fare well in Iowa even in cold weather.