House WrenTroglodytes aedon

adult, Western
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, Eastern
James M. Wedge/VIREO
adult, Western
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, Western
Rob Curtis/VIREO

Family

Description

A familiar backyard bird, the House Wren was named long ago for its tendency to nest around human homes or in birdhouses. Very active and inquisitive, bouncing about with its short tail held up in the air, pausing to sing a rich bubbling song, it adds a lively spark to gardens and city parks despite its lack of bright colors. Various forms of this wren are found from central Canada to southern South America.

Habitat

Open woods, thickets, towns, gardens. Breeds in a wide variety of semi-open habitats, including suburbs, orchards, woodlots, open forest, streamside groves, mountain pine-oak woods, and many others. Winters mostly in areas of dense low growth, including thickets and streamside brush.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, moths, flies, and many others. Also eats many spiders, plus some millipedes and snails.

Feeding Behavior

Forages very actively in dense vegetation. Forages at various levels, sometimes high in trees but usually low, searching for insects among foliage, on twigs and branches, in the bark of tree trunks, and on the ground.

Nesting

Male defends territory by singing. Courtship involves male singing, showing the female potential nest sites. Adults often puncture the eggs of other birds nesting nearby (including other House Wrens). Male may have more than one mate; female may leave male to care for young from first brood while she moves to another male's territory and nests again. Nest site is in any kind of cavity, including natural hollows in trees and stumps, old woodpecker holes, crevices in buildings, often in nest boxes. May nest in almost any kind of enclosed space (flowerpots, parked cars, shoes, drainpipes, etc.). Site is usually low, may be high in trees, especially in western mountains. Male builds incomplete "dummy" nests in several cavities; female chooses one and finishes nest by adding lining. Nest has a foundation of twigs, topped with softer cup of plant fibers, grass, weeds, animal hair, feathers. Eggs: 6-7, sometimes 5-8, occasionally more. White, heavily dotted with reddish brown. Incubation is probably mostly or entirely by female, about 12-15 days. Young: Probably both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-18 days after hatching. 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

Eggs

6-7, sometimes 5-8, occasionally more. White, heavily dotted with reddish brown. Incubation is probably mostly or entirely by female, about 12-15 days. Young: Probably both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-18 days after hatching. 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

Young

Probably both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-18 days after hatching. 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

Conservation

Declined in some areas in 19th century after introduction of House Sparrow, which competed for nest sites. Currently widespread and common, numbers probably stable.

Range

Probably migrates at night. Males apparently migrate north slightly earlier in spring than females.

Listen

harsh rattles
song #4
other calls
song #2
song #3
song #1
scold notes
rattles & chits
excited chit calls

Similar Species

adult

Canyon Wren

One of the best songsters in the west, the Canyon Wren is usually heard before it is seen. Surprisingly elusive and skulking even in open terrain, this dark rusty wren disappears and reappears as it creeps about the jumbled rocks of an eroded cliff or steep canyon wall. If the observer waits, the bird will eventually jump to the top of an exposed boulder to pour out another song, a rippling and musical cascade of notes, well suited to beautiful wild canyons.

adult, Western

Marsh Wren

A sputtering, bubbling song among the cattails is a giveaway that the Marsh Wren is at home. A patient watcher eventually will see the bird as it slips furtively through the reeds or bounces to the top of a stem for a look around. Industrious male Marsh Wrens build "dummy nests" in their nesting territories, occasionally up to twenty or more; most of these are never used for raising young, but the adults may sleep in them during other seasons.

adult

Sedge Wren

Related to the Marsh Wren but different in some key habits, the Sedge Wren is a rather mysterious creature for many birders. It is often hard to see as it creeps about in damp sedge meadows of the east and midwest, occasionally coming up to give its dry rattling song. As a summer resident it is oddly erratic in many areas, showing up and breeding one summer and then vanishing again. Overall, its numbers seem to be gradually declining.

adult

Rock Wren

Arid rocky canyons and seemingly barren piles of boulders are home to this active little bird, the palest of our wrens. Birders who explore such places may spot the Rock Wren bouncing up and down on its short legs, as if on springs, while it gives a metallic callnote that echoes among the rocks. The nest of this wren can sometimes be located by its curious "front porch," a paving of small pebbles on the ground in front of the nest entrance.

adult

Bewick's Wren

In dry thickets and open woods of the west, this is often a very common bird. Pairs of Bewick's Wrens (pronounced like "Buick") clamber about actively in the brush, exploring tangles and bark crevices, waving their long tails about, giving harsh scolding notes at any provocation. In the east, this species is far less common, and it has vanished from most of its former range east of the Mississippi River.

adult

Carolina Wren

More brightly colored than most wrens, and with a rich musical song, Carolina Wrens are common in open woods and backyards in the southeast. There they busily explore brushpiles and low tangles. The adults live in pairs all year, and they may "duet" at any season, with the female giving a chattering note while the male sings. The northern edge of this species' range varies over time: it gradually expands northward during series of mild years, then gets knocked southward again by very severe winters.

adult

Winter Wren

A secretive little bird of dense woods. It often creeps about among fallen logs and dense tangles, behaving more like a mouse than a bird, remaining out of sight but giving an occasional kimp-kimp callnote. Usually Winter Wrens live close to the ground; but in spring in the northern woods, males ascend to high perches in the conifers to give voice to a beautiful song of long-running musical trills.

adult, breeding

California Gnatcatcher

Until the late 1980s, this bird was regarded as just a local form of the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. With its recognition as a full species, it also became an endangered species: its limited habitat along the southern California coast is being taken over by housing tracts and other developments. California Gnatcatchers live in coastal sage scrub, a low shrubby habitat that is also home to other specialized animals and plants.

adult

Wrentit

In the chaparral, the dense low brush that grows along the Pacific seaboard, Wrentits are often heard and seldom seen. Pairs of these long-tailed little birds move about actively in the depths of the thickets, rarely perching in the open or flying across small clearings. They are remarkably sedentary; a bird may spend its entire adult life in an area of just a couple of acres.

adult

Pacific Wren

A secretive gnome of western forests, often creeping about near the ground under dense tangles, most easily located by its sharp kep-kep callnotes and its ringing, tinkling song. Until recently, was considered to belong to the same species as the Winter Wren of eastern North America and the widespread Eurasian Wren of the Old World.

adult

Brown Creeper

Looking like a piece of bark come to life, the Brown Creeper crawls up trunks of trees, ferreting out insect eggs and other morsels missed by more active birds. It is easily overlooked until its thin, reedy call gives it away. Reaching the top of one tree, it flutters down to the base of another to begin spiraling up again. Creepers even place their nests against tree trunks, tucked under loose slabs of bark, where they are very difficult to find.

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