The search for a wren house


It’s a simple thing, but a pleasure of life for me.  Two tiny birds living in the yard, in a tiny box made special for them and singing beautiful songs that mean spring and summer to me.

My father made a search for info about these birds 50+ years ago.  There was no internet; he had to go to the library and search thru books.  He was a carpenter/wood pattern maker, and then he took his new knowledge and made 2 wren houses.  He knew just what the birds wanted, and for years we had wrens in one of the boxes every year.

These birds mate for life. They migrate to warmer weather in the south in the fall and usually arrive back here around 5/1.  I always make sure I have 2 wren houses hung up well before that, in case they ever surprise me early.

2 wren houses, because these birds are very predictable, and very particular. They are small and it’s hard for them to fight off predators, so they make the best plans to provide for their little families.  He arrives first and picks 2 nesting sites, at least 30′ apart.  She comes about a week later and chooses one of them for their home. They return to the same general area every year, and to the same yard if conditions were just right before.

The cute little painted and decorated houses you can buy for small birds are nice for us humans to see, but jenny wren won’t have anything to do with those houses.  They want their house plain, with no paint smells, or bright colors to attract other birds.  There doesn’t need to be a way to open the box to clean it out, because they would rather you didn’t clean it out: they come back to the familiarity of their own last year’s nest.  Then they clean it out themselves and build a new nest.  The hole must be no bigger than a nickel, so other birds can’t get in to attack their family.  There can’t be a perch, because that makes it easier for other birds to sit there and stick their heads in.  They have  protection of their family down to a science, and we need to know their science if we want wrens in our yards.

I had one nice house that they lived in last year, and an alternative that I would hang in another place they don’t seem to like as well.  Because their houses are not treated or protected wood, they don’t last a long time in the weather. As I looked at the alternative box, I discovered it had disintegrated to the point that I was afraid to trust it. So I looked several logical places around town to find a replacement.  Feed stores, farm supply stores, gardening centers; nada, no wren houses.  I like to buy thing locally as much as possible to support small businesses here, but it looked like I was going to have to buy from a big company online to get a house.

I called one more place, a farm/feed place that I seldom go to. Yes, he said, they have wren houses, and he seemed to understand the birds’ requirements.  So off I go to buy a wren house!

No, what they had was a house a guy had made for them to sell.  A small hole and no perch, ok, but 2x as deep as it should be, and 3x as long.  The birds want to be able to build their nests up to where they can sit on the nest and  see out the hole. This box was so big that pigeons could have nested in it if they could have gotten in the little hole.  I told the guy that whoever made this box didn’t know nearly enough about wrens, and that no wren would even consider it for a nesting site.  Bigger is better for some things, but not wren houses.

So, I came home and ordered a new house from a big online company. A plain, ordinary looking little thing that suits jenny wrens just right.  It’s tradition to me after so many years to provide the right setting and hope that wrens will nest in my yard.  And in a couple weeks, every time I’m out in the yard and garden, I’ll be listening for a familiar song that means Mr. Wren has arrived and is looking for a suitable place to raise this year’s family.  Just as I did when I was a kid, and an announcement was made as soon as one of us in our family heard the first song: Jenny wren is here!

Happy Spring!


11 responses to “The search for a wren house

  1. I enjoyed this very interesting post. Thanks! And that’s a very beautiful house for the birds…

    • Glenda Lowe’s has had them here in recent years, but our local store closed. I ordered this nice one from Amazon, and it’s Audubon approved. They’re not very expensive and well-made ones last about 10 years, outside during spring/summer and put away in the garage for winter.

  2. There were a variety of techniques for managing certain problems with birds in the orchards decades ago. Some were problems with the birds. Others were getting birds to manage other problems. For example, mulberry trees were planted around the orchards to keep birds distracted and well fed while the fruit ripened withing the orchard. Italian cypress grew in vineyards so martens would nest in them and chase off the birds that ate grapes. Anyway, there were these weird bird apartment buildings up on high poles. I do not know who lived in them, but I do not believe that they were for birds that benefited the orchards, unless of course, they were for the martens. (I think that martens are too big to get through the small holes.) I sort of think that they were for birds who ate mosquitoes and perhaps insects that damaged agricultural commodities. However, the orchards were the only agricultural commodities here, and in this region, mosquitoes are not a serious problem. I forget the technical name for these bird apartments.

    • There are purple martens around here. People have those big apartment building bird houses. It’s amusing to watch all the activity around one of those houses, with something always going on. Jenny wren wouldn’t like living near one; she likes quiet back yards. They give me the business when I’m out there anywhere near their house; a small bird challenging a big human. It’s just a warning, cos they know we don’t threaten their family.

      • The funniest is when my big burly and fearless arborist colleagues scream like little schoolgirls as they get attacked by a hummingbird!

      • That’s really silly! Wrens have come down and zapped me on the head a few times when I get too close to their house. It’s funny for such a little bird to be that brave.

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