The House Wren by Julie Jansen Sept. 2020

08/21/2020 15:34

The House Wren has one of the largest ranges of any songbird in the New World. It breeds from Canada through the West Indies and Central America, southward to the southernmost point of South America.


Spending the summers in thickets and brushy edge habitat adjacent to woodlands, the house wren is a familiar bird in parks, backyards, and gardens, often—but not always—near human settlements. Some house wrens winter in the southernmost states in the United States, but many travel beyond our borders farther south.

House wrens nest in a variety of cavities from woodpecker holes to natural cavities and nest boxes. Like Carolina wrens, house wrens will also nest in flowerpots, drainpipes, and will gladly use nest boxes, or you may find their twig-filled nests in old cans, boots, or boxes.

Single males sometimes compete for females even after a pair has begun nesting. In about half of these contests the outsider succeeds in displacing his rival, at which point he usually discards any existing eggs or nestlings and begins a new family with the female.

The male builds these “dummy” nests, and the female selects one in which to nest. The twig structures are lined with soft materials, such as grass or hair, and the female lays six to eight eggs. The cup itself is built into a depression in the twigs and lined with just a few feathers, grasses and other plant material, animal hair, spider egg sacs, string, snakeskin, and discarded plastic. The female lays 3 to 10 eggs. Only the female incubates eggs. Both parents feed the chicks. House Wrens can be very feisty and competitive when it comes to nest sites. They will pierce and discard the eggs of bluebirds and others who dare to build a nest in a site the House Wren feels it “owns.”

The female performs the incubation duties, which last from 12 to 14 days. Fledglings leave the nest two or more weeks after hatching.  House wrens are notable for their lack of field marks—the warm-brown upperparts and tail are matched by a grayish breast.

Look closely at the house wren, and you’ll see a variety of small white and black spots, the only variation in the bird’s plumage. Males and females look alike and both have the wren-like habit of cocking their tails up when perched. The thin, slightly curved bill is ideal for capturing and eating the house wren’s insect prey.

The oldest recorded House Wren was at least 9 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in New York in 1993, the same state where it had been banded.

Sources: and