Sep 8, 2015 | Featured Web Article

House Wren Nesting Material

Most common and vocal in summer, found skulking through thick underbrush and along woodland edges, the house wren moves (and calls) almost constantly.

This story by Greg C. Greer originally appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. Greg C. Greer owns Greg Greer Enterprises, Inc., which is involved with environmental education, eco-travel consulting, and monitoring of peregrine falcons in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an avid naturalist and photographer.

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The melodic song of the house wren is one of the sweetest sounds a spring morning can bring. In my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, the house wren is not a common breeding bird. In 25 years, the plain little brown birds have nested in my yard only three times. Although their beautiful songs certainly make up for their drab appearance, their spunky attitude is also something to admire. First-year adults can be particularly amusing. I once spent an entire afternoon watching a house wren wrestle twigs into the small entrance hole of a bird box. It took several comical hours for the little songster to figure out how to correctly angle its head so the twig would enter the hole end-first. At sunset the ground below the bird box was littered with discarded twigs, and I was left with a lasting impression of that determined bird slamming those twigs perpendicularly across the hole.

My passion for watching birds has led me to many wonderful observations, discoveries, and surprises.

Every spring I can typically expect to count about seven bird species nesting in different boxes of various sizes around my yard. At the end of the nesting season I take down each box for any necessary repairs and a thorough cleaning. I often find bird-house refugees during this process. Usually it's a flying squirrel. Other times it is a black rat snake, gray tree frogs, or insects, including earwigs, wasps, and the occasional spiders. I once found the remains of a ring-necked snake in an eastern bluebird nest; I have no idea how it happened to be there, but it was a spectacular find.

One discovery, however, tops them all. As the nesting season ended, I set out to clean and repair a box used by a pair of house wrens. A single brood had fledged from the box, and the wren family had dispersed soon after. After removing the box from its pole mount and taking it to my workshop, I began to inspect the nesting material. How fascinating! Mixed in with the expected twigs and other materials was an array of feathers. Not house wren feathers, but feathers of all different colors and sizes. One by one, I laid them out and eagerly tried to identify the different species represented. I was astonished. In addition to the 12 species I could identify, there were several more feathers that remained a mystery. Among the species represented in the feather collection: eastern bluebird, northern cardinal, eastern screech-owl, downy woodpecker, ruby-throated hummingbird, wood duck, Carolina chickadee, blue jay, tufted titmouse, eastern towhee, and red-shouldered hawk.

All of these species nest in or around my yard, but I still found it incredible that the wrens found so many feathers from such a wide variety of birds. This was a remarkable accomplishment. It would be challenging for a person to find feathers from 12 species of birds in just a few weeks, but the wrens had accomplished it. My hope for the next year was that the same pair of wrens would return to the yard—it might provide evidence that one or both birds in this pair had a particular interest in feathers as nesting material. Unfortunately, I have not had house wrens successfully nest in my yard since then, so my investigation has stalled. As they say, there's always next year. Here's hoping this nesting season brings the return of the house wren's captivating song and perhaps another cherished memory.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018