House wrens are sweet singers

Their bubbling bird song is a Central Oregon sign of spring

House wren

Scientific name: Troglodytes aedon

Characteristics: In general, these wrens average 4¾ inches long, are brownish above with dark barring on the wings, have long barred tails that are often held upright at an angle and faint eyebrows. Their slender bills curve slightly downward. The undersides are pale grayish-brown with some barring and brownish coloration on the belly and flanks. The legs and feet are pale pink.

Nesting: Cavity nesters, these wrens use nest boxes, abandoned woodpecker holes or various abandoned items like old flowerpots, boots, vehicles, etc. The male starts to build the nest then the female finishes it. Females lay an average of four to eight brownish-marked white eggs. She then incubates them for about two weeks. The young leave the nest at 15-17 days old.

Range: Occurs across most of the United States and into parts of Canada during the breeding season. Several other subspecies of house wrens occur in South America or the West Indies. Winters in the southern U.S. and Mexico.

Habitat: Open woodlands with coniferous or deciduous trees, riparian areas, oak-juniper woodlands and urban areas or farmland.

Food: Eats insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, moths, flies, millipedes, crickets and insect larvae gleaned from trees and shrubs or found on the ground.

Comments: Their bubbling song is a sure sign of spring. Male house wrens build dummy nests that different females inspect. This includes shoving numerous twigs into a cavity until it appears full. In Greek mythology, the queen of Thebes, Aedon, was transformed by Zeus into a sweet singing nightingale; hence the use of Aedon as the species name. Troglodytes is from the Greek word meaning “creeper into holes or cave dweller.” Some nestlings die due to insect infestations in the nest; hence it is good to clean out nest boxes each year.

Current viewing: Indian Ford and Cold Springs campgrounds in Sisters, Shevlin Park, along the Deschutes River Trail and in urban neighborhoods with tree cover or nest boxes. A group of wrens may be known as a “chime” or “herd.” Fiercely territorial, house wrens will destroy the eggs of other cavity nesters.

— Damian Fagan is a COCC Community Learning instructor and volunteer with the East Cascades Audubon Society. He can be reached at damian.fagan@hotmail.com.

Sources: “The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds” by John Terres, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s www.allaboutbirds.org and “Birds of Oregon” by Burrows and Gilligan