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July 7, 2012 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Nesting House Wrens

The House Wren is a tiny little bird commonly found in the northern two-thirds of the United States and parts of Canada. They don’t mind people and will readily nest in backyards.

They are migratory and head south of the frost line in winter but return to the same breeding grounds in the spring. The male arrives first and establishes his territory. He places sticks in multiple nesting cavities and then sings to attract a female. When a female arrives she chooses the nest site they will use and together they fill the box with sticks. The female will finish the nest cup with soft materials like feathers, hair, spider cocoons, moss and grass.

A few weeks ago a pair choose the nestbox on my back garage and worked non-stop for two days building the nest. I’m amazed at the size of the sticks they can carry and maneuver into the box.

Once the nest is finished the female lays an egg per day until the clutch is complete. After all the eggs are laid she will incubate them for 10 to 14 days. The eggs should hatch this weekend and both adults will then care for the young.

Inside the Nest
After the breeding season ends I clean out the nest boxes and get them ready for the next year. The photo on the right is a wren’s nest. The little box was stuffed so full of material I don’t know how they fit three baby birds in there. Click to enlarge and you can see the feathers and other soft materials that made up the nest cup.

Interesting Note on Behavior
While many birds are monogamous during the breeding season, and some mate for life, that is not true of the House Wren. Wrens can raise two or three broods per season and may mate with a different female for each brood. Males may also mate with two females simultaneously.

I monitor the nests for Project Nestwatch so I pay close attention to the bird’s behavior. Last year the male helped feed the young for the first week and then moved to a different nestbox ( I have four of them) and began singing to attract another female. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. After a little research I discovered that this is not uncommon behavior. Needless to say the female, who was now a single parent, did not raise a second brood with this male, who I began referring to as the deadbeat dad.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

© 2012 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.


Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Jul 7 2012 9:26 am

    I’m amazed it could get that stick through that hole too!


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:29 pm

      These birds are little engineers. He maneuvered that stick along side his body so he could pull it through the doorway.


  2. Paulita / Jul 7 2012 10:34 am

    Wow, that looks like a lot of work. Glad I’m not a bird. Here’s Mine


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:30 pm

      It’s especially bad to be a bird today, there’s no air conditioning in that bird house. Momma wren was sitting in the doorway when I last checked on them.


  3. Christine Harding / Jul 7 2012 10:45 am

    I loved your post, and the pictures – how wonderful to watch these little birds at such close quarters. My Snapshots are at


  4. kaye / Jul 7 2012 10:50 am

    Randy little guys, those male wrens! 😉 thanks for sharing Leslie. I always learn a lot when I visit.


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 4:02 pm

      The wrens surprised me with that behavior. I thought they’d at least stay together for the breeding season.


  5. Kailana / Jul 7 2012 11:25 am

    It’s always fun watching birds build a nest. And finding nest in unusual places!


  6. Fiction-Books (@Fiction_Books) / Jul 7 2012 12:02 pm

    Hi Leslie,

    Your wrens sound like a very fickle bunch, not very loyal at all.

    I didn’t realise that there were so many different species of wren.

    This link is to our UK RSPB site (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), where you can see a picture of the variety most common in our gardens.

    We do have a couple of pairs who visit our back garden, usually during the winter months, when we hang balls of bird fat in the trees, but we have yet to have any nesting.

    Great shots, I don’t know how they fit all that mess into such a small space!!



    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:36 pm

      We have lots of different kinds of wrens too. The House Wren is the one that most commonly nests in backyards. They move south for the winter. They only eat bugs and there isn’t enough food for them to stay in the north. I put the fat, or suet, out too. The woodpeckers love it.


  7. Cathy / Jul 7 2012 12:10 pm

    Hummingbirds aren’t monogamous either– at least the ones down here aren’t. Plenty of deadbeat dads to go around unfortunately!


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:37 pm

      I heard rumors about those hummingbirds. I watched Phoebe Allen on the webcam and Mr. Allen was nowhere to be seen. She raised those babies alone. For shame!


  8. Suko / Jul 7 2012 1:10 pm

    Lovely photos, Leslie! I didn’t know that male House Wrens were promiscuous!


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:40 pm

      I just found that out last year. Previously the males helped until the babies left the nest.


  9. Alyce (@AtHomeWithBooks) / Jul 7 2012 1:31 pm

    Love the deadbeat dad reference! 🙂 All I could think of with the building materials was to wonder if the spiders hatch out of the cocoons still after they are incorporated into the nest.


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:41 pm

      If those spiders hatch I’m pretty sure she will eat them! I watched last year as momma wren brought the nestlings a daddy long legs the size of her head for dinner.


  10. Trish / Jul 7 2012 1:56 pm

    Those males are a randy bunch! Funny all what they put in those nest boxes. Some of those sticks are big!


  11. cherylmahoney / Jul 7 2012 2:09 pm

    I love that shot with the stick–he looks so busy. Obviously showing off for the females with the size of the sticks he can carry…


  12. Lucy / Jul 7 2012 2:25 pm

    Great shots. Very impressive nest too. We’ve had mourning doves nesting in our backyard this year – 3 different times. When one moves out the next moves in. It’s fun to watch and see the baby birds. Thanks for sharing!


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:43 pm

      I’ve seen juvenile doves in my yard but I haven’t found their nest. It must be in a neighbor’s yard.


  13. Arti / Jul 7 2012 3:03 pm

    Interesting photos and even more interesting birding behavior observations. Just a question reflecting my ignorance, how can you tell which is the male / female wren? (I mean, other than noticing she’d laid the eggs.)


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:53 pm

      Male and female look almost the same. After watching a while I can tell them apart by behavior. The male sings… a lot… throughout the breeding season. The female will occasionally answer him but it’s not a song. She is also far more aggressive defending the nest than the male and will make scolding and chattering noises.


  14. Sheila (Book Journey) / Jul 7 2012 3:22 pm

    That is a lot of sticks!!! I love the pictures Leslie! And your bird facts are also so interesting!


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 4:05 pm

      I’m fascinated with nature and am amazed at how every species builds a different nest and they are born knowing how to do it.


  15. storygal / Jul 7 2012 3:37 pm

    I also did not realize that certain birds would have more than one partner. Interesting. Love that first pic.


    • Leslie / Jul 7 2012 3:58 pm

      I learned that last year. I knew they only mated for the season but I had no idea males would take on two mates in one season or at the same time.


  16. laurelrainsnow / Jul 7 2012 5:05 pm

    What interesting behavior patterns! Thanks for the photos and the facts. And I’m glad you could visit my blog today.


  17. Louise / Jul 7 2012 5:17 pm

    Great bird shots (and info) as always. I don’t think I could get that stick through that hole, it must weigh about half it’s body weight too. Perhaps wrens in general are very promiscuous. In Australia we have the totally gorgeous superb fairy wren, which I will eventually feature sometime, and they are particularly promiscuous- they do form pairs, but have lots of liasons on the side.


  18. Bev@My Reader's Block / Jul 7 2012 7:51 pm

    Great shot–as always. It’s amazing that they can get so much nesting material in such a small space! And I love your nickname of the deadbeat dad!

    Here’s my Snapshot.


  19. Nise' (Under the Boardwalk) / Jul 7 2012 8:11 pm

    The sticks can’t be all that comfortable! Wonderful photos and information.


  20. sim@chapter1-take1 / Jul 8 2012 2:33 am

    Thanks for sharing all this information. I found it thoroughly fascinating!


  21. Leeswammes / Jul 8 2012 10:39 am

    A single mother? It’s the first I hear of it in the world of birding. Fascinating story, Leslie.


  22. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Jul 8 2012 8:23 pm

    This was so interesting, not to mention the beautiful photo.

    I bought a nice bird house, but thought that the birds probably have already scoped out their nesting spots for this season, and decided to save it for spring. Do you agree? When is a good time to hang a bird house in the Northeast (know I could google this, but you are my expert).


    • Leslie / Jul 8 2012 9:40 pm

      Thanks! Some birds are building their second nests now so it’s possible you could attract a bird family this year. The problem is they would need to find the house soon, so next year is probably a better bet. If the weather is nice you can put the house out in March. I have one mounted under the eaves of the garage (that’s the one in the photo) and another on my garden shed that I leave out all year. The one I hang in the tree goes out in April.

      One of the things I didn’t mention is the size of the entrance hole to the birdhouse determines what types of birds will nest there. The houses I have are sized for wrens, chickadees and finches. The hole is about a quarter of an inch too small for house sparrows; not that I don’t like house sparrows, but they will nest absolutely anywhere and don’t need another house. They are so funny, they try to get in anyway and get stuck like Winnie the Poo in the honey jar!



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