COLUMN: You hear house wrens before you see them

The columnist recently got a bird’s-eye view of House Wrens, enjoying their song; the older bird was sitting on the fence and the little one found a good spot on a black eyed Susan flower

As is typical of this little bird, I heard it before I could see it. I first saw the adult House Wren on the fence. The baby was sitting on a black-eyed Susan flower. It was so small and well camouflaged by the shadows and the center of the flowers that my camera had trouble focusing on the bird rather than the surrounding flowers.

House wrens have the distinction of having one of the largest ranges of any songbird this side of the Atlantic. Allaboutbirds.org says, “It breeds from Canada through the West Indies and Central America, south to the southernmost point of South America.”

We tend to think that smallness equals kindness. It may be, of course, but this little bird contradicts that stereotype when it imposes its will on other birds. “Wrens harass and peck at much larger birds, sometimes dragging eggs and young away from their desired nest site, sometimes even killing adult birds,” says allaboutbirds.org

Regardless of this information, when I saw the young bird sitting on and among the flowers, it struck me as poetic – a beautiful moment in time.

Adding to my pleasure, I was grateful to see that the adult had caught an earwig. I am fairly tolerant of insects and encourage biodiversity. Nevertheless, I have an aversion to earwigs, especially when I find them in my teapot or tea towel. Anyway, feeding the birds seems like a good use for them.

Besides earwigs, house wrens eat things like beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, flies, and moths. It also eats many spiders, as well as centipedes and snails, according to Audubon.com.

Audubon.com also states that house wrens nest in boxes and other enclosed spaces which can include “flower pots, parked cars, shoes, drainpipes”, etc. Once a wren checked my folded umbrella.

Dust mites and other pests in their homes are a problem for house wrens. Allaboutbirds.com suggests this could be why wrens often add spider egg sacs to the materials they build their nests with. The site continues: “In laboratory studies, once the spiders hatched, they aided the wrens by devouring nest parasites.”

I wonder if this is perhaps a shrewd move by House Wrens that leads to taking care of two things at once. The hatched spiders get rid of the parasites, then the wrens eat the spiders. It’s a bit like the troglodytes who do the dishes before eating.

Either way, these troglodytes are struggling to make a home. According to Audubon.com, the male will build model homes using twigs and show them to a female. She chooses one and finishes the nest by adding plant fibers, grass, weeds, animal hair and feathers.

This does not mean that the female will be faithful. Audubon.com says she may choose to move into another male’s territory and nest again, leaving the first male to care for the young from the first brood. Males can also have more than one mate.

In this case, no matter the circumstances, I’m glad two house wrens have found a way to keep the species going by producing this young bird found among the flowers.

I share the experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every two weeks. Until next time, keep an eye on the sky and look for any passing birds.

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, storyteller and playwright. She blogs on her website rosiewrites.com.

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