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By Jim Wright
Special to The Record | USA TODAY NETWORK - NEW JERSEY
Any column about house wrens must begin with their singing. That’s especially true this time of year, after they’ve migrated from points south and gotten busy attracting mates and setting up house.
The male's song has been described in a host of ways, with the adjectives like “effervescent” topping the list. Old-time bird author Neltje Blanchan, for example, wrote that “this little wren's song bubbles, ripples, cascades in a miniature torrent of ecstasy.”
More recently, birder/author Pete Dunne has called a house wren’s song “a wonderful, cascading rise and fall of notes that knit heaven and earth.” Maybe that’s why I’ve never heard anyone imitate one successfully.
But here’s the rub: That mellifluous melody-making typically begins while you are still in bed, trying to get that last bit of morning shut-eye. And Mr. Wren keep babbling on, until you can’t count the number of refrains anymore.
With its upturned tail, brown topsides, over-sized voice and small stature (about two-thirds the size of a sparrow), the house wren looks a lot like its Carolina cousins, just way drabber.
A house wren’s hallmark, besides its over-caffeinated call, is its adaptability.
Of the many species of birds that have used nest boxes in my yard, the house wrens are the most reliable year after year, and happily announce their arrival every spring. Elsewhere, they’ve used everything from flowerpots to drainpipes.
John James Aududon’s illustration of House Wrens for his “Birds of America” portrays the nest as an old hat with a hole in the top, hanging through a dead branch “with the little creatures anxiously peeping out or hanging to the side of the hat, to meet their mother, who has just arrived with a spider, whilst the male is on the lookout, ready to interpose should any intruder come near.”
The wrens’ choice of nesting materials is similarly eclectic, ranging from grass and feathers to an errant piece of dental floss.
Does anyone have anything bad to say about these drab dynamos? My guess is that other birds nesting nearby – including other house wrens – aren’t huge fans.
Forget the house wren’s reputation for being shy and furtive. They have a reputation as some of the avian world’s nastiest neighbors. Like house sparrows, they will take other birds’ nests. And taking a page from the brown-headed cowbird playbook, they will even pierce the eggs in other birds’ nests.
According to Bill Boyle’s invaluable guidebook “The Birds of New Jersey,” the house wren is a “common and ubiquitous summer resident, common migrant, very rare in winter.”
He adds that they are “conspicuous by their noisy presence just about anywhere in the state throughout the summer.”
The wrens are mostly gone by mid-October. Depending on how much you and your backyard birds enjoy having them around, that’s either good news or bad.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim’s next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].