For the Birds Radio Program: House Wren

Original Air Date: May 25, 1989

House Wrens are back! (3:48) (Reworked from 1986 and 1987.)

Audio missing


(Recording of a House Wren)

House Wrens are back, singing their bubbly, exuberant song. If you happen to be a fan of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” maybe you’ve noticed King Friday’s bird in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe–its name is Troglodytes Aedon. Mr. Rogers even sings a song called Troglodytes Aedon. That’s the scientific name of the House Wren.

When people hear scientific names, they often react, “It’s Greek to me.” But the House Wren’s official name is appropriate. A troglodyte is someone who creeps into holes and caves–the perfect place for building a house wren’s nest. And Aedon was the Queen of Thebes in Greek mythology. Zeus changed her into a nightingale–and nightingales sing a little like our house wren.

The House Wren is a master of diplomacy, getting along just fine with people in every country of North, Central, and South America. It’s not quite so popular with birds–if any other species nests on a house wren’s territory, the House Wren often punctures holes in all the eggs.

This four and a half inch dynamo returns to the Northland in May. The male comes back first, to set up his territory in an open area with leafy trees and shrubs. He can defend from one half to three and a half acres from all other male wrens. Like a troglodyte, he creeps into every crevice he can find on his property, and builds up to half a dozen stick nests–usually in natural cavities or woodpecker holes, or, for very lucky people, in wren houses. But some wrens have nested in empty cow skulls, fishing creels, watering pots, old hats, tin cans, boots, shoes, the nozzle of a pump, an iron pipe railing, weather vanes, holes in walls, mailboxes, pockets of overalls hanging on a clothesline–even in the axle of a car that was driven every day!

The female is attracted to the territory by the male’s bubbly song, but only stays if he’s built a nest to her liking. Of course, she wants to improve her living conditions–she lines the nest of her choice with spider egg cases, feathers, hair, grasses, and other soft materials before she lays her 6-8 eggs. She incubates them, while the male hangs out in his bachelor pads. Once the babies hatch, though, dad’s fun is over–he helps her feeding the brood, and once they fledge from the nest, while they are still very dependent on their parents for food, mom lights out for the territory, leaving dad with custody. She’ll mate with another male, and sometimes even with a third mate. This maximizes the number of babies produced. Many die from parasites, many are eaten by predators and stung by wasps, and many are killed on their long migration flight to their wintering grounds–a bird whose weight is less than that of three dimes is pretty fragile.

A lot of people wonder why house wrens never nest in the boxes they set out. It seems like an insult when your beautifully painted, hand crafted nest boxes go totally unnoticed, but a pair of wrens goes next door to nest in a smelly old sneaker. That is one of the great mysteries in the world of birds.

(Song of the House Wren)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”

Re-recorded for 1987-06-01