Small house wrens live life large, at times to detriment of neighbors

Photo by ronin2435/Pixabay House wrens are small birds, weighing no more than two nickels, but they live life large and in charge.

Some new spring arrivals have kept things interesting at home. New warblers — common yellowthroat and black-and-white warbler — have brought my warbler yard total to six species for the season. I’m also enjoying visits from ruby-throated hummingbirds and ruby-crowned kinglets. The most recent bird to return has made my bedside alarm clock redundant.

For several recent consecutive mornings, a male house wren has erupted with its bubbly, incessant song outside my bedroom window. House wrens are small birds, reaching a length of about five inches and weighing about 10 grams. To put that in perspective, two nickels in your pocket would weigh the same as a house wren.
For such a small creature, the house wren has a powerful voice that they use with unbridled enthusiasm. The bird’s song penetrates walls and glass windowpanes with ease. The bird’s song has even inspired  a pop song by the group Owl City:

Nevertheless, I’m not begrudging the return of these little birds. There’s a definite joy to their song. If only their other habits matched.

Nature’s not always neat and tidy. In fact, nature operates with rough-and-tumble mechanisms that, all too often, put some of our favorite birds at odds with each other. Like any other living creature, birds compete for resources — food, water, prime nesting real estate and even mates. Some of those pretty and entertaining birds at your feeder or bird baths have a dark side that isn’t often glimpsed.
When some insight is gained into these behaviors, it’s only human to feel discouraged, disenchanted or dismayed by some of our more aggressive species. Although they have their fans, blue jays, various hawks and even the Tennessee state bird, the Northern mockingbird, have attracted plenty of detractors due to their aggressive natures.

Like all of the aforementioned, the house wren is a native bird. I also happen to like house wrens. They have such perky, happy songs, and they’re good parents. They can raise as many as 10 young in one nest box.

Unfortunately, wrens engage in some ruthless behavior when it comes to nesting. House wrens will evict other cavity-nesting birds from next boxes. They will even destroy eggs and young. Our other native birds are not defenseless. For instance, Eastern bluebirds can and do fight back, but despite their small size, house wrens are feisty and they can be quite stubborn.

House wrens like brushy habitat that offers a lot of cover. For anyone who prefers hosting bluebirds, open space is crucial. Of course, chickadees and nuthatches also like brushy habitat and woodland edges, just like the house wrens.
It’s complicated, but I come down on the side of our native birds. House wrens have their place. Non-native birds like the introduced European starling and the house sparrow cannot legitimately claim a place in North America. These species should never have been brought to this country in the first place.

To discourage competition, it’s probably best to not crowd a number of boxes in a small location such as the backyard. If possible, don’t place any other boxes close (at least not within easy view) of each other. Wrens are territorial and their concept of their domain basically extends to whatever they can see.

House wrens have a few other relatives in the region, including Carolina wren, marsh wren, sedge wren and winter wren. The common Carolina wren is a slightly larger relative of the house wren and is probably the most visible of the area’s wrens.
A bird memory from childhood involves a pair of Carolina wrens that built a nest in an old apron my grandmother used as a bag for her clothespins. My grandmother gave up the bag to the birds for the duration of their nesting. At the time the identity of the nesting birds was a mystery, but all these years later I realize these birds were in all likelihood Carolina wrens, which are known for their love of nesting in unusual nooks and crannies.

In more recent years, I’ve hosted Carolina wrens that have nested in plastic shopping bag hanging from a nail in my garage. Another pair once tried to nest in the exhaust vent for my clothes dryer. I’ve also found nests in porch lamps and a flower planter on the porch of the Unicoi County Heritage Museum.

Worldwide, there are about 80 species of wrens. All but one of the world’s wrens are confined to the New World. A variety of common names describe the various species with some creativity, including such monikers as rufous-browed wren, tooth-billed wren, flutist wren, white-headed wren, sepia-brown wren, fawn-breasted wren, ochraceous wren and moustached wren.

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