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House wren whistles while he works

By Robert Tougias

Publication: The Day

Published July 18. 2014 4:00AM

Is it compensation? Does the male house wren sing loud and clear to make up for what he lacks in size or might? These are questions common to those who share their yard with this tenacious little brown bird.

I have a house wren nesting out back near my garden, which presents to me this very question every morning when the bird begins to sing at sunrise. I just cannot get over how this little bird can make such powerful music. The singing doesn't stop either - it just continues all day until sunset. Fortunately, it is a pleasant bubbly warbling song that will cheer the soul.

If you are observant, you may notice that the feisty little bird changes his tune through the season. In the spring when the wren arrives, his voice may be a bit horse; however, it soon improves becoming rich and strong as rival males close in on his territory. A few days later, when the females return, the song again changes, becoming harsher, or slightly strident. On the day the chicks hatch, the male lowers his voice and sings a shorter softer warble. If you missed this, remember house wrens have a second brood in July.

It all begins in late April though, when you may have noticed, as I did, the male flying to different nest boxes and removing sticks from them. He was removing old nesting material from the boxes in preparation for the new breeding season. In the early cool days of May, the male brought fresh twigs back into the nest boxes to form the base for the new nest. Although, only one true nest is built, the male must satisfy the female by building several stick bases in different nest boxes; and so after several weeks of singing and dragging sticks in and out of boxes, the female finally made up her mind and entered the box of her choice with her own nesting material.

She laid her eggs in my oldest nest box in June and sat with them for close to two weeks. I realized then that perhaps her choosiness was justified. Now the male was free to roam, and she was cloistered in her box in the shade.

While she sat on her eggs, he moved energetically through the thickets and brambles surrounding my yard. He fed furiously, traveled secretively, and always found time to sing. The singing never stops. It ought to continue every day until well after the second brood has fledged sometime in August.

I have had many different birds occupy my nest boxes over the years including bluebirds, tufted titmice, nuthatches, winter wrens and chickadees. While I was hoping for bluebirds this year, I have to admit the common little house wren has been equally fascinating to watch.

No, I don't think the loud cheerful song is to compensate for lack of size - but it sure does make up for the brilliant azure that nesting bluebirds might have brought.

Robert Tougias is a birding author who lives in Colchester. He is available for color slide presentations and you may contact him at rtougias@snet.net.

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