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.
At the end of April house wrens returned to Iowa right on schedule. Every year they seem to appear like magic. Where they were absent just a day or two before the yard suddenly seems to be filled with wren antics and their effervescent voice.
House wrens winter throughout South America and summer across most of North America. Many make their home year round in Mexico.
Wrens feast on insects that pillage gardens.
Wrens love suburbia with its diversity of buildings, shrubs, shade trees, and gardens. Soon after arriving in Iowa, a wren pair begins housekeeping. Of all birds house wrens are probably the easiest to lure into a birdhouse. They are not shy. The nest box can be positioned where viewing the emerging family is easy. Wrens also are not fussy. If they can’t find a tree cavity or bird house they’ll move into an old shoe or tin can.
Wrens are tiny birds with enormous appetites. They dine on adult insects, caterpillars, spiders, and many other invertebrates that most people consider pests. A pair nesting near a garden will forage amid vegetables and flowers seeking crop damaging insects.
Perhaps the best wren attributes are their utter cheerfulness and energy. Few wild animals are more fun to watch and listen to. Anyone unfamiliar with the distinctive call of this delightful bird can go to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology All About Birds. Type in” house wren” and learn more about this amazing summer Iowan and hear its call.