Jun 6, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2017

Dear Birdsquatch: How Do I Discourage House Wrens?

House wrens can be no laughing matter when it comes to the other birds trying to nest in your backyard.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

Last spring a pair of house wrens took over a bluebird house in my backyard. I suspect them in the untimely demise of a clutch of Carolina chickadee eggs, which I found pierced and dropped below the nest box the chickadees were using. I've heard that house wrens are not good neighbors to other cavity nesting birds. Is this true? And if so, what can I do to discourage the house wrens?

—Lee T., Fairfax, Virginia

Dear Lee,

I can tell that you "Dear Lee" love your backyard birds! House wrens can be no laughing matter when it comes to the other birds trying to nest in your backyard. Here's why: In spring and during the summer nesting season, a male house wren will look for likely cavities in which to nest. This usually means a wren house or another birdhouse, or a cavity in a tree. Unlike Carolina wrens, which will nest in a wider variety of spots—in the clothespin bag, in an old shoe in the garage, in a hanging basket—house wrens are pickier, in my experience. Whereas a Carolina wren will make a nest in close proximity to humans, house wrens prefer to be farther away, often in a cavity in or near woodland.

Let's go back to our prospecting male house wren. He will go around your yard inspecting all the potential cavities. Then he will start filling the best ones with short sticks, which is the house wren's preferred nesting material. Then the male will squire his mate around to all the sites so she can choose one. Once she does, they team up to build the full stick nest, and then they get busy making babies. If another species attempts to nest nearby, the wrens may destroy that bird's nest or eggs, or even toss small nestlings out of the nest. What the house wren lacks in physical size it makes up for in aggressive territoriality.

I like house wrens, even if they can be the anti-Welcome Wagon to their bird neighbors. Their burbling song is a cheery sound in spring and summer across most of North America. I can't explain why they try to hog all the nest cavities, nor why they will destroy the nesting attempts of other birds. Perhaps it's because growing up in a nest of hard sticks is so uncomfortable, it just makes them cranky. More likely they've evolved to be super competitive in the war for nesting cavities.

Here's what you can do to appease the house wrens. Give them nest boxes with a wren-sized entrance hole of one inch in diameter. This will prevent all other birds (except chickadees) from using the wren box. Place these boxes along a wooded edge or slightly inside the woods, making sure the box is mounted on a pole that is baffled to guard against predators. Place all of your other nest boxes in more open settings, which house wrens dislike. This will establish a natural separation between the wrens and your other nesting birds.

One other thing: If a house wren has started a nest in a box, don't remove it. I've seen house wrens go on a nest-destroying rampage after their own nest is destroyed. I guess misery loves company.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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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