Published Date Written by David EastmanWords fail me for how much I could despise writing about the common house wren. But, maybe I am driven to so. The bubbling musical call of the male wren will definitely awaken me every morning, as he is stubbornly scouting out the three birdhouses I have placed to attract more desirable birds than he. So far, this cunning little brown elf has not attracted a busy-body mate even at this early part of summer. Fine, but he is earnestly indicating to me that the placement of these nest-boxes I have installed around my yard is far more conducive regarding his species' reproduction needs than for tree swallows or bluebirds, or even chickadees for that matter.
Putting birdhouses too close to vegetation at the edges of small lawn areas is most suitable for courting wrens. They would reproduce naturally in woody ravines or brushy areas as their natural habitat of choice. The landscaping we do on borders, and hanging nest-boxes on clotheslines' pole structures or trees around the home grounds attracts them. Birdhouses for the other species I mentioned above would have to be considerably more out into the open fields, though putting a chickadee house close to a coniferous woodland's edge works well for that small bird. Nailing a nest box on a shed or outbuilding's wall is good for house wrens, too. They obviously get their common name from choosing our domiciles over wilder terrain. And, if they can get in it, they will use it. Stories abound about their nest site choices.
But I dread that spontaneous, warbling series of gurgling, musical notes, because the male house wren has some qualities that defeat other birds' utilization of those nest boxes that are still empty. He will place abundant small sticks in all the houses, creating what are called "dummy nests," while he awaits his bride. That fussy female bird will choose one particular box, and throw out some of the dark brown sticks he has inserted to fill up the cavity, but only just enough as a compromise. This habit of his, of course, rather completely precludes other native cavity birds utilizing those remaining interior spaces. But, one wonders how he can carry the burden of the small twigs, and pull them through the entrance hole for the multitude of stems that he does. It looks like a few hundred are in there! Open any nest-box crammed with thin sticks, and you know you have a wren problem.
The female house wren will put some softer stuff in there as a lining to lay her eggs in, so don't feel too sorry for her. What she may not know though, is that male is merrily polygamous and probably is attracting a few more suitors into other boxes. This character might mate with three to five various females in season. However, even beyond that, he has a vicious habit of sticking his strong slim beak into other birds' eggs, and therefore piercing them into ruination. He may even flip them out of the next box, onto the ground below. House wrens will compete with other birds that nest in the nearby brush, too, and pierce the eggs of yellow warblers and chipping sparrows as well. So, not a nice guy at all, even considering his very high quality vocal powers I am registering around my home grounds. The little brown wren's odd qualities have driven poets into maddeningly writing about its presence. He inspires debate.
Where wrens come out on the plus side of the column is that they are prodigious insect eaters. Studies early on in twentieth century by the old Bureau of Biological Survey showed that their stomach contents were 98% animal food, and only 2% vegetable—which included grass and similar matter. Half the food taken consisted of grasshoppers and beetles; the remainder was caterpillars, bugs, and spiders. Crickets and locusts are also eaten by the house wren, which as a good provider, is diligent in its constant searching for food to fill its own stomach and that of its numerous young. Thus, the squabbling house wren seems entirely beneficial in its foraging.
All of the wren species tend to move about quite actively in this hunting, striking the viewer as mouse-like, so you will commonly come across the phrase "wren-like" whenever reading about other species that behave the same way, such as the common yellow-throat. Bold scolding and skulking goes along with the rodent-like demeanor.
The house wren has one of the largest ranges of any songbird in the New World. It breeds from Canada, through the West Indies, throughout Central America, and southward to the southernmost point of South America. When Audubon saw our bird in somewhat deeper brown color on our southern borders in the off-season, he thought it a distinct species.