The little brown House wren is not around in winter because they migrate south each fall and return to East Brunswick each spring. But if you are lucky enough to have a House wren nesting around your house, you will certainly know when it returns. The males are energetic and sing like crazy when they are setting up a nest territory and will scold any intruder to that area throughout the summer. They often will do this from a very visible spot, just to let you know they mean business.
When House wrens aren't chattering or singing away they can often be very mouse-like and skulking, keeping to the ground or dense vegetation. House wrens also nest in just about any suitable spot around the yard.
As I have done many times in this series, I like to let the voice of ornithologists from the past "speak" about the birds and their habits. In the entry for the House wren contributed by Alfred Otto Gross in the monumentally important Life Histories of North American Birds the description of the calls and song of the House wren lends the second part of the title to this post and is really exceptional. It underscores why I really like looking through the older ornithological literature. The descriptions of the many various nest spots of the House wren are also fantastic:
With respect to it's voice, the entry is:
"The loud clear song of the house wren is one of the dominant characteristics of its striking personality. The Chippewa Indians, who were keen observers of nature, fully recognized this trait as revealed by their name for the house wren: O-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning a big noise for its size (Cooke, 1884).
The scolding or alarm note of the house wren is a harsh, grating chatter, but the song is a burst of melody, a rather loud, hurried, strenuous, bubbling outpouring--shrill, ecstatic, and difficult to describe or to translate into written words. It is a varied song, but to human ears it is not musical or nearly so appealing as that of its relative, the Carolina wren. The persistent repetition of its nervous energetic outbursts has after a time a tendency to tire the listener."
For nesting sites, the descriptions are equally interesting:
"The house wren stands out preeminently as one of the most eccentric of our birds in the choice of its nesting site. In fact, its choice of nesting place exhibits such extreme variation that it is difficult to select one that can be considered typical...These birds have readily adapted themselves to the environment of man reaching a state of semi-domesticity. They have availed themselves of houses constructed for their special use or lacking these have built their nests in various contraptions incidentally provided either inside or outside of buildings. They are not particular and are just as apt to accept an old rusty can in a garbage heap as they are a neatly painted house set in the midst of a beautiful flower garden. Innumerable curious nesting places have been reported, a few of which will serve to illustrate their infinite variety. At a sanctuary located on Wallops Island, Va., 24 empty cow skulls found bleaching on the island were hung up or lodged in the trees and shrubbery. Almost immediately 23 of the gruesome skulls were occupied by house wrens, who were quick to accept these unusual nesting boxes (Forbush, 1916). There are several instances where house wrens have built their nests inside the large paper nests of hornets or wasps that were attached to private or public buildings. Before adding nesting materials the interior of the insect nests were excavated by the industrious birds...It is not uncommon for the wren to make use of the nests of other birds. At Loring, Va., a pair of wrens built in a deserted barn swallow's nest. At Laanna, Pike County, Pa., Burleigh (1927) writes of a nest containing seven eggs which was in a robin's nest on a ledge above a pillar of a porch...Other interesting nesting sites of the house wren have been in a fish creel or watering pot hung on the side of a shed or fence, rusty tin cans in garbage piles, old threshing machines and other farm machinery, in tin cans, teapots, and flowerpots left on shelves of sheds, in a soap dish, in old boots and shoes, and even in a bag of feathers. Outdoors they have been known to nest in the nozzle or main part of pumps, in the hat or pockets of a scarecrow, in an iron pipe railing, in a weather vane, in holes in a brick wall or building, and in a coat hung up at a camp site. One pair of wrens built their nest on the rear axle of an automobile which was used daily. When the car was driven the wrens went along. Even under these most unusual circumstances the eggs were successfully hatched (Northcutt, 1937)."
The House wren is one of the easiest birds to attract to nest in a yard. In my yard they have nested in old bird boxes and even a gourd every year since we moved in more than 20 years ago. It is always a pleasure to know they have returned when I finally hear the long bubbling song on some spring morning when I walk outside.
House wrens can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. For more information about Mourning doves visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website.